“It’s dangerous for a woman like you to play it safe.”

Moonlight. Family. Love.

Moonstruck

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 (Loretta's fiance)

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 and Ronny bond over steak.

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.”

Passion

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.)

Nicholas Cage was attractive once?

“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.

Olympia Dukakis and Cher

Vincent Gardenia and Cher

Moonstruck cast

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.

When Harry Met Sally

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The charm of “When Harry Met Sally” is not in the obviousness of their relationship –  we know the fate of these two from the time we read their names in the title – but more in the journey that Harry and Sally make to becoming a couple, or at least giving their “non-relationship” a name.  This prolonged journey follows the title characters through years of acquaintance-ship, fashion, hairstyles, and relationships, and allows us as the audience to acclimate ourselves to the idiosyncrasies of their personalities.  These factors and the thoughtful detail written into the characters Harry and Sally (thanks, Nora Ephron), along with fantastic performances, have created the classic that has passed the test of time.

Harry’s character is beloved because he simply is not immediately that lovable.  Our introduction to Harry shows him making out with his girlfriend, who is obviously far more into him than he is to her. Does this make him a bad person? No, however it does make him an irritating one.  When he first jumps into Sally’s car, he begins eating and spitting the seeds of gargantuan grapes onto Sally’s window. He is abrasive and arrogant. Claiming he has a huge “dark side” and bragging about how he broods about death, Harry basically holds this superiority over Sally’s head. His character is allowed room to grow over the years, though he still retains many of his “bad habits” – namely diving into relationships and sleeping with women without hesitation, while still not over his ex-wife Helen. He is also incredibly honest and observant, delivering the majority of the film’s classic musings on relationships. In some ways you could say Harry is our stereotype/archetype for the every man in a relationship. He is sexually unrestrained, operates with little emotion, and is, as Sally describes him, “an affront to all women”. Simultaneously, Harry is anything but a stereotype in that he is sensitive and intuitive toward Sally and her needs. He is emotional and owns that emotion, rather than stuffing it down like Sally, who by contrast denies her feelings to everyone including herself.
Sally is not free from fault here – she is painted as uptight, impatient, controlling, and in Harry’s words “high maintenance”. Not only is she stand-offish toward Harry’s persistent attempts to get to know her, but she is stand-offish in general toward love. Though she has a brief monologue where she describes wanting a family, all of her actions work against that notion. We can also think of Sally as the archetype for the every woman – she is family-oriented and by contrast to Harry is far more sexually conservative. This character trait is contradicted however in the famous faked orgasm scene, where she proves to Harry that women are capable of faking orgasms, while also mildly squashing his male ego.  Sally also breaks with her stereotype by being far more removed from her emotions than Harry.  It takes until the second to last scene of the movie at the New Year’s party, a span of over twelve years for Sally to admit to Harry that she loves him, and even then she whispers this inaudibly as they embrace.
Harry and Sally are interesting in that they are nearly perfect opposites, but are also the same in that they continually block themselves from the relationship and lives they desire. They go as far as setting each other up on dates with their best friends Marie and Jess, who end up marrying each other. Both Harry and Sally are emotionally detached, and fear a real commitment because of the risk of losing that investment. Harry fears repeating his mistakes with his ex-wife Helen and once again having his heart broken, while Sally wants a marriage and family, but fears the rejection she received from Joe whom she presumably wanted to marry.
I believe we all know a Harry and a Sally – those two great “friends” who maybe hooked up once, or perhaps hug a few seconds longer than any platonic relationship permits. They tap-dance around their emotions, date other people, and fulfill the major duties of most significant others, but they never quite “hook it up”. Harry and Sally is the story of the friends that manage to “hook it up”.  Yes, the friend-zone is possible to escape, and according to “When Harry Met Sally, we can escape it in a mere twelve years!