Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Oscar Film Journal: Moonstruck (1987)

Welcome to another entry in the Oscar Film Journal, here at!  Only about six weeks till this year's awards, I better pick up the pace....

Today we take a trip to the 1980s for Norman Jewison's critically acclaimed romantic comedy Moonstruck, starring Cher, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia and Danny Aiello.  This ensemble piece takes place primarily in an Italian-American Brooklyn neighborhood, over the course of a few days.  Cher plays Loretta Castorini, a widow whose current beau Johnny (Danny Aiello) has just proposed to her before flying to Sicily to tend to his dying mother.  Johnny asks Loretta to seek out his estranged brother Ronny and convince him to attend their wedding, but Loretta and Ronny are instantly and passionately attracted to each other, beginning a torrid affair.  Loretta isn't the only one in her family engaging in extracurricular activities however; her father Cosmo has a girlfriend, something her mother has long suspected.  The film weaves in and out of these main romantic threads but also depicts Loretta's aunt and uncle as an elderly couple who still burn for each other, as well as teasing a romance for Loretta's mother Rose when she meets a middle aged college professor (John Mahoney) who can't help chasing after his female students.

I must say given the universal praise this movie garnered (plus six Oscar nods, all of them major) I was a little underwhelmed by it.  The highlights for me were Cher's performance as Loretta, reluctant to ever fall in love again after losing her first husband, yet subconsciously yearning for real passion, something Johnny doesn't provide; and Olympia Dukakis as Rose, certain her husband is cheating but incapable of doing the same to him, or of even leaving him.  Her immediate response upon learning of Loretta's engagement is "Do you love him?"  "No."  "Good.  When you love them they drive you crazy because they know they can."  That line reveals much more about Rose than we realize at first; being in love with another person on some level makes you powerless over them.  
I think Rose's interaction with the John Mahoney character was my favorite thread; here is a man going through a midlife crisis where he is too insecure to date women his own age and a total sucker for a young, fresh face.  But as soon as his prospective conquests get to know what a condescending jerk he is, they throw a drink in his face and storm out.  Then he meets the worldly, no-nonsense Rose and is unexpectedly taken with her; unfortunately for him Rose has already chosen her path in life and isn't about to toss it all aside for his callow ass. 

As for the film's central romance, I found Loretta and Ronny's animalistic passion for each other perhaps a tad unlikely; Nicolas Cage plays Ronny as a bull in a china shop and I wasn't sure I bought the cynical Loretta falling for his rather obtuse charms.  But maybe that's the point the film is trying to make; love doesn't make sense, it's not born of logic or reason, and to Ronny's third act point, "We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die."  Loretta has tried to avoid that inevitability for so long that when she feels that passion again it knocks her right over (as illustrated when she weeps openly while watching La Boheme). 

Side note, I was a little distracted by the idea that the 53-year-old Danny Aiello and the 22-year-old Nicolas Cage could be brothers, but obviously Aiello was supposed to be younger (his age is mentioned as 42 - self-care clearly isn't Johnny's forte) and Ronny older (Cage could easily pass for early 30s at this point).  Perhaps they should've been written as cousins? 

At any rate, Moonstruck is a fairly sweet, mature romantic romp that explores love in pragmatic, real-world terms rather than via the usual storybook approach these films tend to take.  Marrying for convenience and security is safer than marrying for love and fundamental attraction, but it's also bound to bring one a lot less joy. 

I give the film *** out of ****.

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