Thursday, July 9, 2015

Moonstruck: Hearts will play tippy-tippy-tay, tippy-tippy-tay!

Cher in her best role.
Loretta Castorini (Cher) has almost become too practical for love. Even a beautiful bouquet of roses cannot inspire a glimmer of romance: "The guy that spends money on those spends a lot of money on something that will end up in the garbage."

The 37-year-old Brooklyn bookkeeper had "bad luck" with her marriage when her husband died in a car accident seven years earlier. Having lost her soulmate, Loretta is willing to settle for something less than love and accepts a proposal from Johnny (Danny Aiello). She doesn't love him, but, as she tells her mother, she likes him and he's a good man.

Prior to the nuptials, Danny tells Loretta that he must go to Sicily for a final visit with his dying mother. During his absence, he asks that Loretta personally invite his estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to the wedding. Ronny, who works in the bowels of a brick oven bakery, blames his brother for ruining his life. Apparently, Danny distracted Ronny, who accidentally cut off his left hand and subsequently lost the woman he loved.

Cage almost wasn't cast.
Five years later, Ronny is still filled with bitterness and tells that to Loretta when she visits him at the bakery. But, as he and Loretta share a drink in his apartment, his rage turns into passion and--to Loretta's surprise--she and Ronny end up in bed together.

Moonstruck, one of the best romantic comedies of the 1980s, seems as fresh today as it was almost 30 years ago. It's the kind of film where everything comes together almost magically--from the opening song to the superb cast, the script's gentle whimsical qualities, and even the title. It could have easily been a disaster, though.

Olympia Dukakis was an unknown to
most movie-goers.
Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley wrote the script with Sally Field in mind as Loretta. Although Field proved herself adept at romantic comedy with Murphy's Romance (1985), Cher brings a wonderful earthy quality to Loretta. It's easily her best film performance and rightly earned her a Best Actress Oscar. Olympia Dukakis, who plays Loretta's mother, also won an Oscar for Supporting Actress and Vincent Gardenia was nominated for Supporting Actor as her father. Dukakis, who was known mostly for her stage work, got the part only after Maureen Stapleton and Anne Bancroft were deemed too expensive. In a film filled with delightful performances, Dukakis and Gardenia bring nuance and heart to a subplot about a married couple that has temporarily misplaced the passion in their relationship.

Nicolas Cage almost didn't play Ronny. Indeed, according to some sources, his screen test went badly and Cher convinced the producers to keep him. Inexplicably, he failed to garner the same stellar reviews as his co-stars. He holds his own quite nicely. Granted, his performance is more broad than the others, but then that's how it should be. Part of Loretta's attraction to Ronny is that he is madly passionate and yet still sensitive.

Originally, Moonstruck was to be called The Bride and the Wolf (yikes!) and the music behind the opening credits was La bohème. While that made sense from a plot standpoint (it's Ronny's favorite opera), preview audiences thought they were watching an art film. So Puccini's classic opera music was replaced with Dean Martin crooning "That's Amore." It turned out to be the perfect marriage of music and movie.

Director Norman Jewison said the final scene--with eight people crammed
into the small kitchen--was one of the hardest he ever filmed.

Shanley's script provides an ideal canvas for the cast, with its twin tales of new and old love. Loretta's grandfather (Feodor Chaliapin) acts as a Greek chorus, muttering comments here and there with his pack of dogs nearby. And, like many fine romances, there's a touch of magic on the screen--in this case, it's provided by a big romantic moon that "hits your eye like a big pizza pie." Sadly, Shanley, who also won an Oscar, failed to replicate his success (although there is some quirky charm in The January Man and Joe vs. the Volcano).

That just shows to go that that every once in awhile all the pieces come together for a movie. That's the case with Moonstruck. And that, my friends, results in cinematic amore.


  1. Cher and Dukaksis were brilliant together. Shanley indeed wrote a grand, full, boisterous script. Thanks for the review.

  2. "Moonstruck" is one of those cinematic gems that I enjoy revisiting! The cast is fabulous, with what is Cher's best work but Nicolas is excellent, too. I laughed out loud at the awful proposed title! Loved hearing Dean croon the title song, too. Spot on review, Rick!

  3. toto, I too am so glad they changed the title to MOONSTRUCK!

  4. I'm with you and toto -- yikes is right! I love this movie and haven't seen it in too long. You hit it just right, Rick ... it really is cinematic amore!

  5. Thanks for all the background into. Sally Field would have been good in this film, but Cher OWNS it. She's beautiful and funny and utterly convincing.

    You're absolutely right about this being the perfect mix of movie and music. It's been several years since I've seen this, which means it's time to see it again. Thanks for reminding me about this wonderful film.