A lovingly crafted script, the deft touch of a director from old Hollywood, and a cast of committed actors conspired to create movie magic in 1987’s Moonstruck. A blockbuster moneymaker sans gimmicks— no special effects, no serial killer, no nudity or shocking twist —this modest little film, set to the music of La Boheme, Dean Martin and Vicki Carr, relaunched a cottage industry of modern romantic comedies that continues to this day (with varying degrees of artistry).
This where Cher, flamboyant singing TV superstar of the 70s, cemented her place as one of the finest screen actresses of the 1980s, after startling and acclaimed performances in Silkwood and Mask earned her Oscar nods. Oddly, she has made relatively few films since and has never recaptured the magic of Moonstruck in the years that followed. (At least, not yet.) For Moonstruck, Cher took home the gold as Best Actress of the year.
Director Norman Jewison stresses the ensemble nature of this story of an upper-middle-class Italian-American family. As the star of the film, Cher dominates with her perfectly realized Loretta Castorini, who is transformed by the power of unexpected love under a full moon. But, like classic Hollywood films of the 1930s and 1940s, this Cinderella story is a star vehicle bolstered by strongly written and acted supporting characters that give the film its nuance and heart.
Here, each and every actor, even those with one-line bit parts, is given a dimensional characterization in Shanley’s inspired screenplay, from Loretta’s funeral director client (“I make them look better than they did in real life.”), to girls who work in the Cammerari Bakery (“I love this man”) to the old crone Loretta chats with at the airport (“You got someone on that plane? I put a curse on that plane!”).
As Ronny Cammerari, Nicolas Cage is raw talent and charisma...he’s like a wild beast poached from the untamed forest and set loose on a soundstage, the perfect choice for releasing the explosively primitive energy in Cher herself.... pure fireworks. (On the DVD commentary, Cher hints at some difficulty in working with Cage, but the result is crackling, electric onscreen chemistry.)
There are too many standout performances to cover.... Oscar nominations went deservedly to Vincent Gardenia and Olympia Dukakis, unforgettably brilliant as Loretta’s parents (Dukakis won), but Danny Aiello, John Mahoney, Julie Bovasso and Anita Gillette are all just as uniformly excellent. Together, all these gifted actors create a convincing yet comic portrait of a family that puts the fun in dysfunction.
This is writer John Patrick Shanley’s masterwork: thoughtful, humorous and character-driven, richly realized by all the artists involved. (Shanley’s recent play and film of Doubt, though much acclaimed, has a joyless heavy-handedness and is devoid of Moonstruck’s warmth and humanity.) Here, Shanley touchingly and ingeniously articulates how romantic love may be magical but not all-powerful, but family is forever.