Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday Movie Review: Moonstruck

Moonstruck (1987) 10/10
Loretta (Cher) accepts Johnny's (Danny Aiello) marriage proposal, and then Johnny immediately flies to Sicily to be at his mother's deathbed. He asks Loretta to look up his estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) while he's away, and persuade him to attend the wedding, but an attraction between Ronny and Loretta could upset the wedding plans.

Oh my Gods, do I love this movie. I am helplessly unable to channel-surf past it should it catch my eye, and so this weekend I watched it for what? The fifth time?

I love everything about this movie. I love the interplay of familial love with romantic love, and I think that's very rare in romantic comedies. Only a handful of romances actually care what happens after the first kiss. Moonstruck is about romance, about being swept away by passion and romance and moonlight, but equally it's about what happens next, about commitment and spending a lifetime. Most of all, it's about how to balance the two, how to find a life with both.

Loretta's father, Cosmo (the wonderful Vincent Gardenia), is having an affair. It's a tawdry little thing, full of Cosmo blowing smoke about how intelligent and wonderful he is, and his mistress oooing and aaahing in a way that a wife doesn't do after thirty years. Gardenia is a riot at this, by the way. His wife, Rose (Olympia Dukakis, in her Academy Award-winning role), suspects but says nothing (although she certainly expresses anger like a pro). In an extraordinary scene, Rose flirts with a man she meets, but does not act because "I know who I am." That exchange, peripheral to the plot, is crucial to the meaning of the film; knowing who you are is how to commit to marriage.

The other theme is, of course, romance. But not romance because it feels good, or is pretty:

Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn't know this either, but love don't make things nice—it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit. Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!

It has always been remarkable to me that this comedy, this apparently light-hearted bit of fluff, leaps into such huge themes. Ronny also says he cares more about being with Loretta than about whether or not they burn in hell. And this is not a small thing. This was the philosophy of the Troubadours, a mystical love that transcended conventional spirituality by challenging God and placing love above sin.

The climatic scene takes place at the opera (La Bohème). It's only with this past viewing that I realized the film itself is meant as a kind of opera, and some of the ridiculous, overblown dialogue (which totally makes me giggle) is operatic. Seen as an opera, the broad strokes of the plot and interactions have double meaning, both comedic and dramatic.

I should mention, in case you haven't seen the movie, that this is all enormous fun; sexy, silly, romantic, and just totally entertaining. Moonstruck is, to my mind, one of the greatest romantic comedies ever filmed.

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