The M Word features one the best first kisses in American cinema. Like a great real first kiss, it’s spontaneous and so wonderfully awkward as to constitute a casual mini-miracle. Moxie (Tanna Frederick) is an actor for a struggling cable network who’s strolling outside with Charlie (Michael Imperioli), a gun who’s been sent from said network’s higher brass to streamline the company’s budget. Moxie and Charlie are immediately attracted to one another, and it’s a case of the idealistic artist type who’s drawn against logic to the pragmatic suit who infuriatingly speaks of “the numbers” as the great conversational leveler. Moxie pitches to Charlie a show about menopause, the m-word of the title, and near the end of the pitch she leans in and kisses him gently and briefly. The timing is just right: She doesn’t believe her own actions, and Charlie doesn’t believe his own luck. It’s the second kiss, though, that’s particularly truthful and romantic—as you need that second kiss to confirm that the first one happened at all. Afterward, Moxie shivers with pleasure in a gesture that conveys the gratifying shock of desire that’s unexpectedly sated.
The M Word is a rambling and chaotic mixture of blunt flower-child satire with romantic farce and corporate conspiracy, but you forgive its rough edges for these sorts of moments, of which there are a good half dozen. Like a number of cult directors to emerge in the 1970s, particularly Alan Rudolph and James Toback, Henry Jaglom values a party atmosphere at the expense of narrative cohesion. It’s refreshing to see a contemporary romantic comedy in which spiritual connection and physical pleasure are emphasized over the safe acquisition of social status. In a conventional modern romance, Moxie and Charlie would re-pair with lovers who’d allow them to flourish in their respective careers, but Jaglom nurses a pointed contempt for such careerism, which he connects to the larger corporate impersonality that leads to the marginalization of the elderly, women in general, and pretty much anyone who falls outside of that prized 18-to-thirtysomething male demographic.
You expect the film to culminate in a climax that forces Moxie to choose between the integrity of her blossoming reality show and her romance with Charlie, but Jaglom has no interest in such moralistic games of compare-and-contrast. He essentially throws that dilemma away, understanding that there’s no such safe division of professional and personal because everything is personal. Jaglom throws all traces of plot away, in fact, favoring long self-contained sequences in which a graceful camera captures a gallery of players who deliver overlapping dialogue that celebrates the workplace connections that flourish in spite of bureaucratic regimentation. There’s anger in Jaglom’s idealism, though, that gives the film a much-needed bite, as he’s presenting a vision—which is similar to the ironic utopia of Abel Ferrara’s 4:44 Last Day on Earth—that criticizes via contrast. The M Word is a romantic fantasy that resents its necessary qualification as fantasy for its assertion that individuality, or, hell, even common courtesy, might prevail over increasingly ever-meaningless capitalist machinations.