LIFE. FAMILY. LOVE.
Restaurant owner Bobo is almost in tears as he tells one of the waiters that a favorite customer is about to propose marriage to his girlfriend. His tears won’t come out of joy though, but grief since Bobo is about to lose his most valued bachelor customer. It’s a funny scene in the film, but there’s also truth to it; a new financial reality will present itself to this customer after the wedding and the inevitable childbirth. However, director Norman Jewison’s film, his greatest since In the Heat of the Night (1967), is not about practicalities. It is about love and its unbridled consequences.
Loretta Castorini (Cher) is a 37-year-old widow who grabs the opportunity to finally find happiness with a man when long-time acquaintance Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello) asks her to marry him. She doesn’t love him, but figures things will turn out OK anyway. She tells her parents who are anything but thrilled; still, her mother Rose (Olympia Dukakis) sees the situation the same way as Loretta. When Johnny goes to Sicily to bid his dying mother farewell, he asks Loretta to ask his brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to attend the upcoming wedding. The brothers are not on speaking terms and when Loretta first meets him the impression of him is a brute who blames his brother for the loss of his old girlfriend and hand in an accident years ago.
When she tries to figure out what’s wrong with this peculiar man their fiery encounter ends with a passionate kiss and Ronny carrying Loretta to his bed. As a complicated love affair begins between two very unlikely lovers, Loretta’s parents are also experiencing tumultuous times in their marriage.
Spellbindingly charming sequences
Premiere Magazine once put Moonstruck on their list of the 20 most overrated films of all time. Many other outstanding films on that list have suffered belittling judgments from people who seemingly have forgotten why they fell in love with movies in the first place.
This is a wonderful romantic comedy written by a man who has explored the Italian-American community in his theater plays and directed by a man who knows New York City from the earlier years of his career. Even though John Patrick Shanley had little experience from writing screenplays, his work in this film doesn’t feel stage-bound as the filmmakers take advantage of some irresistible New York City locations. Together, the two men create several spellbindingly charming sequences that show the beauties and dangers of throwing oneself into a romance… or just a flirt. The casting is perfect. Cher was allegedly tired after making two films back-to-back when she accepted this part, but it turned out to be a blessing and she makes it work even though the character is so unlike her; Cage is also an eye-opener in one of his earlier and best performances. Still, they’re both outshone by the supporting players, including Aiello (who is hilarious); John Mahoney as a fifty-something who refuses to grow up; and Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia as the older couple who may look like they’ve seen it all, but still has a real marital crisis to handle.
The dialogue is deftly balanced between the witty and the realistic, culminating in a touching and amusing scene by the breakfast table.
The full moon is a symbolic trigger; it’s what gets the juices flowing here. Music from “La Boheme” is used to great effect in many scenes, emphasizing the Italian heritage as well as the passion on display. This celebration of love’s unpredictable ways will continue to charm viewers long after that Premiere list is forgotten.
Moonstruck 1987-U.S. 102 min. Color. Produced by Norman Jewison, Patrick Palmer. Directed by Norman Jewison. Screenplay: John Patrick Shanley. Cast: Cher (Loretta Castorini), Nicolas Cage (Ronny Cammareri), Vincent Gardenia (Cosmo Castorini), Olympia Dukakis (Rose Castorini), Danny Aiello, Julie Bovasso… John Mahoney.
Trivia: Sally Field was allegedly considered for the role of Loretta; Anne Bancroft and Maureen Stapleton as Rose.
Oscars: Best Actress (Cher), Supporting Actress (Dukakis), Original Screenplay. Golden Globes: Best Actress (Cher), Supporting Actress (Dukakis). Berlin: Best Director.
Last word: “I was kind of tracking a writer named John Patrick Shanley, who we used to call ‘the bard of the Bronx’. He’d written a lot of great one act plays. All his stuff was familial, always Catholic, and very much New York. I don’t think there’s anyone who has an ear for dialogue like Shanley does. He’d written this script called ‘The Bride and the Wolf’, and by the time I got it, there were lots of coffee stains on it. It had been around. Lots of people felt it was too much like a play, which it was. So I asked him if he wanted to work on it, which he did. We worked about five or six weeks on it, changed the title, added a little more poetry to it, a little more cinema, and the rest is history. I gave it to Alan Ladd, Jr. at the Toronto Film Festival. Cher was my first choice for the lead. It’s probably one of the best-cast films I’ve done. Every actor I wanted, I got. We shot most of it in Toronto, again. There’s lovely use of opera in the film, which I love, of Puccini. In fact, the whole film is a bit like an opera. I love that film, it’s full of energy and life. It’s so Italian!” (Jewison, The Hollywood Interview)