By Marc S. Sanders
Moonstruck has to be one of the most delightful romantic comedies of all time thanks to an outstanding cast, an intuitive director (Norman Jewison) and a script full of brilliant dialogue and set ups from John Patrick Shanley.
Loretta Castorini (Cher in her Oscar winning role) is a 37 year old widow. Her husband of two years got hit by a bus. So, naturally when her father, Cosmo (the hilarious Vincent Gardenia), hears the news that Loretta got engaged to the boring schlub Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), he knows this is a bad omen and she should not get married again. Sure, her husband got hit by a bus, but that can only mean that marriage is no good for Loretta. When they wake up Rose (Olympia Dukakis in her well-deserved Oscar winning role), Loretta’s mother, to share the news, she just opens her eyes and asks, “Who died?” This is an adorable Italian family living in Brooklyn and somehow an Irishman wrote the script which was then directed by a Jewish mensch, and everyone is working on all Italian cylinders.
Two minutes into the film and I’m laughing. I’m laughing at Johnny’s wimpy proposal in the local Italian restaurant. I’m laughing at Rose and Cosmo who’ve seen enough of life to know that you don’t get married for love anymore. Rose is for Loretta getting married though. Cosmo doesn’t wanna spend the money.
Just after Johnny proposes, he flies off to Sicily to be by his dying mother’s bedside. He requests that Loretta invite his brother Ronny (Nicholas Cage), who he hasn’t spoken to in five years, to the wedding. Ronny is upset with Johnny. Ronny got his hand chopped off in the bread slicer at his bakery when Johnny was talking with him and Ronny looked the other way.
When Loretta approaches Ronny, before you know it, they are sleeping with each other. Ronny then invites Loretta to see La Boheme at the Met that night. Loretta knows it’s wrong and can’t keep this up. It’s a sin. She goes to confession, but then she also goes to buy a new dress and dye the greys out of her hair.
As well, Cosmo is stepping outside of his marriage, only Rose is not so stupid. She knows what’s going on. When Rose is dining alone, a college professor who strikes out with one attractive student after another joins her table. Rose isn’t gonna do anything. Instead, she asks the question on everyone’s mind “Why do men chase women?” Then she answers it. “Because if they don’t, they think they’ll die.” But they’re gonna die anyway. Right?
It sure looks like my column is just summarizing the film but my breakdown of Moonstruck simply celebrates all that’s good about it. Here’s a film that doesn’t stereotype a New York Italian family. Instead, it shows how they regard one another as well as the people within the neighborhood from the eager to please waiter in the restaurant to the mortician that Loretta works for. The mortician spills butter on his tie. Loretta takes the tie off of him and says she’ll get it cleaned.
Life in the home of Castorini family is shown beautifully with natural humor to display its atmosphere. Cosmo’s quiet elderly father with five yappy dogs on leashes is only a part of every passing day. Like I’ve made claim on other films, the best movies offer smart characters. Everyone has a way of carrying themselves in Moonstruck, and they’re not dumb. They might be cheap like Cosmo or wimpy like Johnny or a little dim like Ronny, not dumb, but they’re all wise to how they handle themselves.
This might seem like a relatively easy, untechnical little New York comedy. Norman Jewison, however, uses a great approach that makes each setting feel like you’re watching the most alive stage play you’ve ever encountered. I’m actually surprised this film has yet to be adapted for the stage. Maybe, just maybe, Moonstruck hasn’t made it to live theatre yet because it’d be damned near impossible to recapture the harmony of this magical cast.
I love Moonstruck.