DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Moonstruck

Wednesday, 2 March 2011


Moonstruck (1987) dir. Norman Jewison
Starring: Cher, Nicolas Cage, Danny Aiello, Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia, John Mahoney


By Alan Bacchus

It’s hard to imagine this film, so fluffy and light as air Italian-American romcom being the 6th highest grossing film of it’s year 1987. It was a huge hit. Then again, back in 1987 Cher was hot, Julia Roberts hot.

Moonstruck hits some of the same cultural buttons as My Big Fat Greek Wedding. A film set exclusively in the culture of NYC Italian-Americans, yet is so familiar to other second generation immigrants in other cities and countries around the world.

For Loretta Castorini (Cher), she’s so identifiable and sympathetic as a hero. She’s in her mid 30’s, widowed early in her marriage, but years later still unable to find a guy, or at least have a decent guy propose to her. Along comes Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), who seems to have his head on straight, Italian, grounded, with a decent job. But there just seems to be a spark missing. Loretta doesn’t mind, she’s pragmatic enough to know being married is better than living at home with her nagging parents.

The rub here is Johnny’s mother, whom he is completely submissive and beholden to. He can only marry Loretta when mom is dead, presumably after a trip to Sicily to say goodbye at her death bed. While away Loretta, in planning the wedding, meets the real love in her life, Johnny’s loose cannon brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage), an emotional spark plug if there ever was one. While this torrid affairs blossoms, so does two others, involves Loretta’s mother and father, all three of whom seem to be appeasing their own urges toward martial impropriety but in search of a different kind love.

While John Patrick Shanley’s script sings delightfully, as directed by Norman Jewison and acted with aplumb by his perfectly cast actors, the film elevates to dramatic heights of an Italian opera. In the first act, Jewison plays the drama with realism, setting up Loretta’s predicament naturally. We can easily see these characters in our own kitchen, bickering and squabbling. In the second act, with the introduction of Ronny, Jewison cranks up the melodrama. The introduction of Ronny alone, is drawn out to the maximum. Ronny is first seen in a sweaty wife-beater, shovelling red hot coals into a iron furnace which bakes the bread for the family business.

His first meeting with Loretta is a hailstorm of conflict, and dramatic flare – a hyper-emotional performance from Nicolas Cage full of all the histrionics which would define his unique career. And even though they’ve just met, we can easily see how they could fall in love instantly.

Loretta’s no pushover though, and she represents as much the foil as the match for Ronny. This is the stuff of best romantic comedies. Their passion fuels the second act wherein Jewison executes a number of wonderfully romantic moments, including the central opera set piece as well as Cher’s famous morning stroll through the street kicking the can across the road like young teenager with her first crush.

The potential infidelities and temptations exercised by Loretta’s mother and father in the b-story serve as a perfect counterbalance to the whimsical romance in story-A. Specifically Rose, Loretta’s mom, played by Olympia Dukakis. In her meeting with John Mahoney’s character, she moves on a similar path to Loretta, but with the years of experience she is able to look at the relationship with a more objective viewpoint. Under Jewison’s direction of these two fine performances he brings forth a different kind of uncomsumated romance.

Moonstruck deservedly won Oscars for Cher, Dukakis, and Shanley and is now available on Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

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