“The heart wants what the heart wants” is never more true in 1987’s perfect comedy Moonstruck. Love is real and magic, and all the while steeped in traditional family values. That’s what Italians love more than each other, anyway: easy things in life that’ll always be there, like food and family. This is one of those perfect instances where every character feels like they have their own movie going on. Studio comedies like this feel as perfect as they can be, and writer John Patrick Shanley mines the romance to have as much weight as the comedy.
As much as the Loretta/Johnny/Ronny love triangle is the core of the movie’s romantic tension, its well-observed comedy is only the foreground for the older generations to reflect on where they are in their lives. Even more tragic is the passing of Loretta’s first husband, establishing a disconnect between her and her family, who were already on their way to being parents by the time they were Loretta’s age. Ultimately, Jewison and Shanley come to the conclusion that Loretta is gonna be okay, even if everyone in the fleshed-out ensemble is at least a little confused.
Although she is considered to be behind in her love life, Loretta Castorini (Cher, the winner in one of the coolest Best Actress lineups ever) is ready to be married to Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). Just then, Johnny finds out his mom is on her deathbed in Sicily. Loretta’s mom and dad (Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia), meanwhile, have concerns about Johnny– not so much if he is a good guy, just if they are rushing things.
Johnny asks Loretta to invite his estranged brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), to join them in the wedding. Soon enough, Loretta discovers she may be with the wrong Cammareri brother, and might have feelings for Ronny. Resisting the urge to admit there is chemistry here, Loretta and Ronny have to admit that driving each other crazy only energizes their love.
Cage has always been misunderstood as an actor, easy to mock and sometimes dismiss. Cage could very well be put in group of those who are really character actors, but found themselves in the trap of becoming a leading man. We see this in his unbelievable commitment to every role that reinforces his love of acting; he treats Ronny as more broken and tragic than other actors of his generation may have played him. His performance here is stellar, with effortless chemistry with Cher; it’s almost as if there is a feeling that Loretta and Ronny can’t last together, but can’t stay away from each other.
At this point in Cage’s young career he’d had roles of varying size in a few movies directed by his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola (Rumble Fish, Cotton Club, Peggy Sue Got Married), along with high school movies in the early ’80s like Marth Coolidge’s Valley Girl and Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It’s in 1987 that he goes from good to great, starting to take roles meant for adults (not only in Moonstruck, but also the timeless Raising Arizona). Cage brought a sadness and edge to these roles, in the ’80s and still four decades on. Cage has been in many bad movies, but we just know how commanding of a presence he can be when the material fits. Now just where does Nic Cage go from here?
dir. Norman Jewison
Screens Tuesday, 3/29, 9:30PM @ Somerville Theatre
Part of the ongoing series FACE/OFF: Travolta/Cage (double feature w/ Blow Out!)