Moonlight. Family. Love.
There is something enchanting about Moonstruck. It is not found in high production values, or crazy special-effects. Slapstick-y jokes. But there is a substance in the script, and a poetry in the language and themes of this film. A chemistry and intimacy found in the cast, that makes you draw nearer to the screen. Moonstruck manages to capture the animal-craze found in new love and slap it on screen, while bringing attention to themes of loyalty, true love in the face of obligation, and the ways in which we block ourselves from the things we desire most.
“The moon brings the woman to the man.”
A big, fat, moon and Loretta (transcendentally played by Cher) are some of the first images to grace the screen. Loretta at age 37 shares a passionless relationship with her boyfriend Johnny. We see her staring off in the distance with a rose resting on her graceful neck. There is no doubt that behind her vacant stare she yearns for more than the life fate has given her. Since the death of her first husband via bus (which she discusses quite honestly), Loretta has concluded that her “lack of tradition” was the missing link. So with the hapless Johnny she has concluded the only way to avoid disaster is for them to abide by tradition as much as possible. Johnny proposes, to which Loretta says yes. She likes him and that’s enough for her. They agree to be married. However, fate has a different plan.
Johnny must leave for three days to attend to his dying Mother in Italy. Johnny has a tendency toward losing what’s dear to him; everything from his luggage, to Loretta who falls in love with his estranged brother Ronny – played by the then up-and-coming Nicholas Cage. Bristling with anger and heartbreak, Ronny lashes out at everyone and mourns the loss of his fiance and his hand.
No one stands up to his anger or bothers to point out how misplaced it is – Ronny blames Johnny for the loss of his hand – but Loretta. Perhaps in Ronny, Loretta has finally met her match. For every blunt word she tosses at him Johnny returns with an equally adept observation of Loretta’s character.
Loretta: “That woman didn’t leave you, ok? You can’t see what you are and I see everything. You’re a wolf. […] That woman was a trap for you, she caught you and you couldn’t get away so you chewed off your own foot. […] And now you’re afraid because you know the big part of you is a wolf that has the courage to bite off your own foot.”
Johnny: “He made me look the wrong way and I cut off my hand. He could make you look the wrong way and you could lose your head. […] A bride without a head.”
Loretta: “A wolf without a foot.”
Ronny: “SON OF A BITCH…I can’t believe this is happening.”
Loretta: “Where are you taking me?!”
Ronny: “To the bed.”
They make love. Sensuous, passionate love…who knew Nicholas Cage was once more than a joke? Dare I say, vaguely attractive? (Watch the infamous scene here.)
“I was dead”, confesses Ronny to Loretta in the throes of passion. Moonstruck is ripe with dialogue with the ability to make one swoon or giggle, and actors who deliver without a wink to the audience. What appealed to me about Moonstruck was each actor’s ability to give a solid, character-centered performance while remaining firmly rooted in the ensemble. Never once did someone’s performance overpower the rest of the cast. Each actor from Olympia Dukakis, whose performance as the Matriarch of the Castorini family won her an Academy Award, to Cher who also carried home an Academy, to the subtle characterization of her adulterating father Cosmo Castorini played by Vincent Gardenia stands solidly on it’s own and cohesively as a whole. This was an ensemble film done right.
Rather than focusing on young, stupid people in love. Moonstruck alternatively focuses on older people…who in some ways are just as “stupid” in their love, but have the several decades of life experience on their side. This life experience allows them to explore the more philosophical side of love, allowing us not only to ruminate on why we desire love, but why we chase it, abandon it, and remain by the people we believe capable of giving us it. Or even why we commit to those people long after the passionate love we once had is gone.
Anyone who is a fan of love, idiosyncratic dialogue, Cher, Italian families and culture in general, and the opera La Boheme should surely tune-in for this gem of a film.