Although performer Lily Tomlin and writer Jane Wagner have been a formidable creative team for decades, creating top-rated TV specials and Tony-winning stage productions, whatever magic they normally conjure together is absent from Moment by Moment, Wagner’s sole outing as a feature-film auteur. Starring Tomlin as an existentially adrift Malibu divorcee and John Travolta as the soulful young drifter who brings her loins back to life, the movie isn’t so much awful as indifferent. Though impeccable from a technical standpoint, the film is flat in every other regard, from acting to dialogue to staging; Moment by Moment feels like a rehearsal instead of an actual movie. There’s also the significant issue of Tomlin and Travolta lacking anything resembling chemistry—no matter how many times Tomlin plops onto Travolta and slides her hands down his pants, it’s difficult to believe these two people want to sleep with each other, much less connect on a deeper level. This isn’t because Tomlin is gay in real life (she and Wagner were already a couple by the time they made Moment by Moment), but because the actors give lifeless performances. In their meager defense, few performers could overcome limp lines like, “You seem so withdrawn, like you’re not even there,” which Tomlin actually says to Travolta at one point. What’s more, the storyline itself is so obvious, shallow, and unconvincing that it almost parodies itself. Thus, in trying to portray sensitivity, Travolta comes across as a girly-man on the verge of weeping in almost every scene, while Tomlin sounds robotic issuing trite observations. (Another gem: “I don’t even know what the word ‘love’ means anymore. I don’t know what cheap sex is.”) The film’s effort to seem heartfelt gets so arch that in one scene, Dan Hill’s infamous wimp-rock ballad “Sometimes When We Touch” plays in the background. Watching this pointless endeavor grind along, one can only wonder what potential Wagner and the actors saw in the material, because in its final form, Moment by Moment is 102 moments of attractive, star-driven nothing.
Moment by Moment: LAME