Oh Italia. How charmingly ethnic they are. Their hand gestures are so wild and crazy. Their Catholicism is so natural and followed only a little less closely than their individual superstitions. They love, they eat, they love some more, they eat some more. At least that’s the picture we get in Moonstruck (1987). If this were The Godfather (1972), I would have said, they eat, they kill, they love, they eat some more. But this is a romantic comedy, so it’s just the fun part of being Italian on display tonight.
Loretta (Cher) is a widow who does the books for some businesses in New York. She lives with her mother Rose (Olympia Dukakis), father Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia), and grandfather Felix (Leonardo Cimino). She’s gotten herself into an engagement of convenience with Johnny (Danny Aiello) who’s going to Sicily to visit his dying mother before they get married. He’d like his estranged brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), to be there. They haven’t spoken in five years—*bite knuckle*–and it’s time they settled their differences (which turn out to be a bit one-handed). When Loretta meets up with Ronny and tries to talk him into going to the wedding, things get physical (very abruptly) and it’s like pasta e fagiole. Meanwhile, Loretta’s parents are having problems that need working out.
Charmingly ethnic. Like My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), but genuine. It’s an off-beat comedy. Almost like Neil Simon in its oddity, though not with his linguistic wit, and well within the tradition of autobiography where everyone in the family has a distinct characteristic you remember them by. Grampa and his dogs. Dad and his business stories. Momma and her egg in toast. People are silly and “human.” All that’s missing is a voice over.
Cher is good. Maybe better than I expected in a way. Again, very like Nia Vardalos from My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Loretta, though, is not the observer. She thinks she is—“You can’t see anything and I see everything”—but everyone thinks they know what’s going on when they haven’t a clue.
She won an Oscar for her performance. I don’t see that. Not because of any deficiency in her performance, but the role wasn’t one that required anything more—and perhaps less—than any good romantic comedy. By comparison, I’d put Kristen Wiig’s performance in Bridesmaids (2011) ahead of this one. More to the point, she’s well behind fellow nominees Holly Hunter in Broadcast News (1987) (who I think should have won) and Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction (1987). Still, for this movie she was great.
Cage is still whacky like Raising Arizona (1987)–which came out the same year–rather than whacky like Face/Off (1997). It’s too much for my taste usually, but it fits this movie well. The tone is always to the left of reality, so a little inanity keeps things in line. The Earthly tether is Olympia Dukakis who is wonderful. It’s a great role played with a large dollop of sadness and earned Dukakis her deserved Supporting Actress Oscar. Gardenia, likewise, plays his role to perfection and deserved his nomination for Supporting Actor. I’d also point out John Mahoney who puts in a small but very well-done part as a poor-in-love individual.
The direction from Norman Jewison was pretty slow paced, I felt, on the first viewing. Thinking on it, I would guess at about a dozen moments of description—I believe the term is “beats”—to play over an hour-forty and that’s not many. However it’s got a good balance to it and isn’t rushed (obviously). Slow but even is what I’m trying to say. The performances are, for the most part, very naturalistic. The city too is mostly naturalistic. But there are many fairylike moments that make New York into a magical place—the moon, obviously, taking on considerable significance. It’s a part of the charm. Jewison was nominated for Best Director and the film was nominated for Best Picture. They lost to Bernardo Bertolucci and The Last Emperor (1987).
The writing from John Patrick Shanley is quite good. Best Original Screenplay good? I’m not so sure. It’s a lovely story and well-made romantic comedy with a healthy measure of quirk, but it isn’t strong start-to-finish. Like I say, it was a touch slow and its ending—or, more accurately, the penultimate ending—was quick and easy without satisfying the considerable emotional elements involved. A part of that is a comment on manliness, but I felt the hand of an editor clipping the runtime. Compare this with fellow nominee James L. Brooks (Broadcast News). Nowhere close.
I’m a bit surprised at how lauded it was at the time. It’s a very nice movie to be sure, but is it special? I’d say that it is almost exactly like The Descendants (2011) in its quality and quirk. It’s also similar in its choice of ending. Both movies lead you down a path as to what you might expect the story to stay with. Something a little melancholy, but depressingly real. Then, in the last two minutes, they decide to throw up their hands and tie it all up in a big red bow. The problem is that bows take longer than two minutes to tie. They’re pretty on the edges, but the knot’s all wrong. Both movies were well nominated, but while The Descendents lost with dignity (picking up only Best Adapted Screenplay), Moonstruck won inappropriately.
I sense that I didn’t fully experience the movie. I’ll have to watch it again. Next time, I’ll watch it around mid-day with a cup of tea. Patient appreciation, that’s what’s called for here. Even with a half appreciation, I can say that $6 is worth the price of ownership. You will enjoy it, if not love it.