Friday, June 20, 2014

1987 - Moonstruck

This past Sunday was Father's Day here in the United States and, indeed, most other countries around the world. Obviously, it held particular significance for me since it was the first Father's Day in which I was actually a father. Interestingly, however, Father's Day is celebrated in September in Australia - another one of those odd differences between our nations. Even more interestingly, Mother's Day is celebrated on the same day in May in both countries, so since our now international family will do things both the American and the Australian way, Kat will only get one day of honour every year, while I will cheekily receive two.

Let's take a look now at one of the contenders in the Academy's race for Best Picture of 1987...

Norman Jewison
John Patrick Shanley
Cher, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello, Julie Bovasso, John Mahoney, Louis Guss
Academy Awards:
6 nominations
3 wins, including Best Actress (Cher) and Best Supporting Actress (Dukakis)

Superstitious Loretta (Cher) just got engaged to her humdrum beau Johnny (Aiello). He has promised they'll get married when he gets back from visiting his dying mother in Italy. In the meantime, he asks her to get in touch with his estranged brother Ronny (Cage) to patch up their five-year feud and invite him to the wedding. Unfortunately for Johnny, Loretta finds Ronny far more appealing and, more importantly, exciting.

Moonstruck is a comedy, that's clear. But there's something incongruous in its execution of that comedy. Much of it is larger than life - Nicolas Cage's histrionics, for example - yet so many of the scenes are languid in pace, a trait more often associated with subtle independent comedies. An interesting combination that doesn't quite mesh, in my opinion.

Perhaps consequentially, it's also rather difficult to accept the sudden attraction between the two leads. Well, let me rephrase that. Loretta is perfectly attractive in many ways and it's easy to recognise why a man would fall in love with her. But Ronny is so wildly insane that it's hard to imagine any woman being interested in him so quickly, particularly considering the lunacy he displays when he first meets Loretta. Nonetheless, this is a movie, after all, and suspension of disbelief aids greatly in forgiving the initial conceit, making way for a relationship that is reasonably endearing. However, no amount of disbelief-suspending can alleviate the hastiness with which Loretta's mother forgives her husband's indiscretions. Without really confronting him about it, such abrupt forgiveness is hard to swallow.

Cher is disarming in her starring role, offering warmth and humanity, and very much deserving of her Best Actress Oscar win. The same can't be said of her leading man, Nicolas Cage, who is just plain strange and somewhat obnoxious, which doesn't help with the aforementioned believability issues. His is not the only exaggerated performance, however, with a large portion of the supporting cast depicting a host of Italian-American caricatures. Thankfully, Cher isn't the only one to keep things subdued. Olympia Dukakis and John Mahoney also deliver more subtle portrayals, establishing the most affecting rapport in the film. And in case this film didn't have enough Italian-American pedigree, keep a keen eye out for Martin Scorsese's mother in an incredibly brief cameo.

1 comment:

  1. Moonstruck was one of the last movies that I saw in the theater with my mother, who was born in Italy. We shared a good number of laughs watching it, and thought the set decoration was spot on. The movie is steeped in death and tragedy, but actually finds humor in these dark situations. Loretta works at a funeral home and is a widow since her husband was run over by a bus. Her namby pamby boyfriend runs off to Italy to be with his dying mother (“she’s dying, but I still hear her big mouth”) Loretta’s mother keeps asking why men fool around. When someone finally tells her “because they are afraid of death, she exclaims “THAT’S RIGHT.” When Loretta and her father wake the mother up in the middle of the night to tell her she’s getting married, the mother’s first words are “who died?” Dark humor to be sure, but so true to life. That’s why I didn’t find her falling for the tragic and angry Ronnie Cammereri that far-fetched at all. Another minor moment that hit home was when Loretta told her father she need to speak to him about something important. His response was “let’s go in the kitchen” The kitchen was the place for the serious conversations.

    I thought the cast was great, and while there were a substantial number of Italian American performers, some of the major roles were played by an Armenian (Cher), and Greek (Olympia Dukakis) and a Russian (Feodor Chaliapin), not to mention writer John Patrick Shanley, who is Irish. All in all its another feather in the cap of Norman Jewison, who I still contend was an under-appreciated director.