Combustible Celluloid
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With: Cher, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello, Julie Bovasso, John Mahoney, Louis Guss, Feodor Chaliapin Jr., Anita Gillette, Leonardo Cimino, Paula Trueman, Nada Despotovich, Joe Grifasi, Gina DeAngeles
Written by: John Patrick Shanley
Directed by: Norman Jewison
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 102
Date: 12/16/1987

Moonstruck (1987)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Pasta Fasule

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I first saw Moonstruck on a delightful date in 1987, and even though the girl has disappeared from my life, the evening lives on in my memory. I was almost reluctant to watch the movie again, mainly because of this memory, and also because I saw it before it won three Oscars (and received three other nominations). How would it hold up? Was Cher really deserving of a Best Actress award?

Well, it's certainly not the greatest movie in the world, but it's a superior romantic comedy, with more than a touch of grace and warmth, and without resorting to the usual stupid romantic comedy clich├ęs. And, yes, Cher is magnificent.

She plays Loretta Castorini, a widow, living in Brooklyn, near her large, loud Italian family. A new man -- Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello) -- comes into her life, and despite the fact that she believes she is cursed, she accepts his marriage proposal. Johnny rushes off to visit his dying mother in Sicily, but he leaves her with a request. She must find his estranged brother and invite him to the wedding.

The brother turns out to be Ronny (Nicolas Cage), a sad-eyed, passionate fellow who works in the sweltering kitchen of a bakery, and wears a prosthetic hand. He refuses to forgive his brother for their past altercation, but he and Loretta instantly strike sparks. They spend a great deal of time fighting, but they also get to enjoy each other's company. Additionally, we get the typical makeover sequence, in which Cher appears, dazzling, and Cage can barely form the words to receive her.

Rather than the "best friend" characters, here we get Loretta's wonderful parents. Her mother (Olympia Dukakis -- who also won an Oscar) begins to believe that her husband, Loretta's father (Vincent Gardenia) is having an affair. This leads her to confide in a local womanizer (John Mahoney). And, like a detached observer, there's the old man Feodor Chaliapin with his dogs, who sees everything, including the moon that hits your eye like a big-a pizza pie.

The memorable dialogue comes from playwright John Patrick Shanley, who won the movie's third Oscar. (He went on to become an interesting film director with just two films to date, Joe vs. the Volcano and Doubt.) You could also claim without too much argument that Brooklyn, and this little Italian community are also important characters; food is crucial here, as is certain types of familial and cultural behavior. It's part of what makes the movie so alive and so genuine.

Moonstruck has hardly aged, and still has the power to stroke the heartstrings. Two years later came When Harry Met Sally, which set the tone for all romantic comedies after it, and it's too bad that this smarter, more grown-up movie couldn't have had that kind of influence. MGM recently released Moonstruck on Blu-Ray. It comes with a commentary track (featuring Shanely, Cher, and director Norman Jewison), and featurettes.

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