Almost 24 years after its theatrical release, Norman Jewison’s Moonstruck is available on Blu-Ray. While watching this quirky, feel-good comedy that swept many major categories at the 1987 Academy Awards, one biblical phrase tends to relentlessly ricochet in the head: oh, how are the mighty fallen. Even though some would have hesitated to call this group “mighty” in the first place, we all understand the need to shy away from the term now.
Moonstruck is the pleasantly clever tale of how widow Loretta (Cher), the headstrong daughter of a working class Italian family in Brooklyn, decides to rock the boat in her otherwise humdrum life by falling in love with her fiancé’s unstable, handsome younger brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage). The mostly practical, selectively superstitious thirty-something sees herself spiraling in a direction she never quite considered possible but makes no apologies for it because … well, there’s simply no point crying over spilt milk. Que sera sera. While her traditional family has fixed ideas about what a woman should be to a man and what a man should be to a woman, Loretta is slightly more progressive, though her failure to realize her own relative enlightenment helps establish her charm. At the end of the day, she’s not afraid to stand up for what she wants, even if it’s not always the most morally defensible thing. And she does it for love, though she’s never too precious about romance, as demonstrated by the famous “snap out of it” scene, in which she slaps her lover in the face for professing his undying devotion to her.
Moonstruck is not your typical romantic comedy featuring some ambitious, glamorous Jennifer Aniston / Sandra Bullock type strutting through New York City streets in impossibly high heels and tight business suits, hurrying to some corner office of a midtown skyscraper, all the time concealing the softer side of herself that only responds to Mister Right. This classic film departs in just about every way conceivable, taking itself with a grain of salt and dispensing with exhausted formulas that make us wonder why we go to the cinema at all. In an era when “romantic comedy” has become a catchall category encompassing every film with a nonexistent plot and a beautiful, quirky female lead who secretly hates herself, it’s quite a treat to revisit Moonstruck, which doesn’t completely forget that romantic comedies are supposed to be funny.
Of course the comedy of the film is aided tremendously by spot-on performances by the ensemble cast, which repeatedly hit home without exception. It’s no small wonder that Moonstruck put Cher on the map of serious actresses. However, watching a whole 17 minutes of her “performance” in last year’s Burlesque made me seriously consider the real-world viability of the plot of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. A simple head scratch and rhetorical, “What happened to her?” is simply too tepid a reaction for such a dramatic regression. I’m going with aliens.
Cage is another conundrum. He delivers a radically showy performance, compared to the bulk of his emotionally stunted repertoire. Not that Cage endows Ronny with any profundity that isn’t distinctly ironic, but he does allow the character to transcend the deadpan delivery and expressionless affect to which he seems so partial. Cage’s performance is no more representative of his career than Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure is of Keanu Reeves’ later Matrix days. It’s enough to make you wish that the less versatile actors out there would just stick to roles that come naturally to them (for whatever reason) instead of “challenging” themselves too much. Would it be so bad if Reeves had kept on inventing ‘80s slang and Cage had never gone hunting for national treasure? Ronny is decidedly the strongest role Cage ever played, and I guess he should just be glad that the camera happened to be rolling during the fifteen minutes of his life he was actually charming.
These thankfully uncharacteristic portrayals, plus divinely inspired backup by Olympia Dukakis and Danny Aeillo, make Moonstruck on Blu-Ray worth adding to your collection, if only for those rare evenings you want to put on a Dean Martin album and propose a toast to “wasted potential” over a nice dish of pasta fazool.
You can also learn how to cook a traditional Italian dish or two watching “Pastas to Pastries,” one of the Blu-Ray’s special features, which offers recipes for an elaborate, yet simple, three-course meal, prepared by chef Elvin Molina and hosted by Jimmy Neutron’s Mark DeCarlo. You can watch a theatrical trailer in the extras, learn about the film’s musical history, and celebrate its evolution from script to screen. All of the features, plus an audio commentary with Cher, Jewison, and writer John Patrick Shanley, are accessible from a pop-up menu anytime during playback.