Every week for the foreseeable future, Vulture will be selecting one film to watch as part of our new Friday Night Movie Club. This week’s selection comes from our staff writer Rachel Handler, who will begin her screening of Moonstruck on April 3 at 7 p.m. ET. Head to Vulture’s Twitter to catch her live commentary, and look ahead at next’s week movie here.
On Friday night, starting at 7 p.m. ET, I’ll be livetweeting Norman Jewison’s three-time Oscar-winning Moonstruck as part of Vulture’s Friday Night Movie series. (Previous Movie Clubs have been run fabulously by my esteemed co-workers Bilge Ebiri and Angelica Jade Bastién.)
Moonstruck, which hit theaters just before Christmas of 1987, has had a sort of resurgence in the collective consciousness over the past few years, and it’s hard to figure out why, exactly. Perhaps it’s because Nicolas Cage has reached eternal meme status, or because of the relatively recent realization that Cher should be in every single movie. Maybe it’s because it’s strikingly, unmistakably original, as comfortable in its own anarchic and enchanting skin as its protagonists. Or maybe it’s that we’re all desperate for cinematic comfort food, and having absolutely picked clean the bones of every Nora Ephron and Nancy Meyers film, we’re reaching back further in time to find something that’ll temporarily fill our gaping existential maws.
I’ve loved Moonstruck for years, and return to it as a source of psychic relief on a biannual basis. There is nothing more cathartic to me than rewatching melancholy widow Loretta Castorini (Cher), who, tormented by what she believes to be a romantic curse, agrees to marry adult baby Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), only to fall madly in love with his estranged, wooden-handed brother Ronny (Cage), an unhinged baker with a penchant for extreme public drama. Moonstruck’s idiosyncratic, operatic Italian shorthand has made its way into my own boisterous family; the beats of John Patrick Shanley’s melodramatic script are as familiar to me as Shakespeare is to smarter people. My dad is so obsessed with this movie that he’ll watch it on the exercise bike over and over again, laughing hysterically at lines he’s heard 30 times already, and we can’t talk about cutlery without screaming, “Bring me the big knife!” So when I was asked to propose a Friday Night Movie, I couldn’t think of anything more appropriate than this bizarre, bewitching, deeply morbid spaghetti rom-com. Below, I’ve laid out five reasons why I think you should all watch Moonstruck with me in these strange, semi-apocalyptic times, or to be extremely specific, on Friday.
1. Nicolas Cage’s Demented Monologues
Back in 1987, even Roger Ebert couldn’t exactly explain why Moonstruck feels so singularly captivating: “The most enchanting quality about Moonstruck is the hardest to describe, and that is the movie’s tone. Reviews of the movie tend to make it sound like a madcap ethnic comedy, and that it is. But there is something more here, a certain bittersweet yearning that comes across as ineffably romantic, and a certain magical quality that is reflected in the film’s title,” he wrote. Part of that is due to Shanley’s script, and part of it to Cage’s gonzo delivery. Nicolas Cage, the actor, disappears entirely into Ronny Cammareri, a Puccini-loving drama king who cut off his hand in a bread slicing accident and furiously blames his brother, Johnny, for having two functioning hands. Cage is known for going hard in almost every single scene of his decades-long career, but he’s on a new level in Moonstruck, with earnest, enraged delivery of lines like, “They say bread is life. And I bake bread, bread, bread. And I sweat and shovel this stinkin’ dough in and out of this hot hole in the wall, and I should be so happy!” You can almost taste the sweat on his (extremely defined) brow and (extremely defined) biceps in every scene.
2. Cher’s Exhausted Strength
Part of what makes Moonstruck’s main conceit — that love and death are the central pillars of the human experience, and impossible to avoid, so we might as well get swept up in their unstoppable currents — work so well is the sharp contrast between its leads. Where Nicolas Cage’s Ronny is all bombast and lust, Cher’s Loretta is, at least initially, a picture of melancholic confidence. Her hair pinned and graying at the temples, Loretta spends her days handling money for various men and making decisions for herself based on the notion that she will never find true happiness again. She’s clearly depressed, but her no-bullshit vibe is unparalleled and inspirational. When she meets Ronny, she marches him up to his own apartment, pours him a giant glass of afternoon white wine, cooks him a “bloody steak to feed your blood,” and tells him to his face that he’s being an absolute moron. “You can’t see what you are. I see everything,” she says, looking right in his eyes, calm but forceful. “You’re a wolf. A big part of you has no words, and it’s a wolf … You chewed off your own foot. That was the price you had to pay for your own freedom … I’m telling you your life.” When Ronny turns the table over and carries her to bed, you understand that there was no other way this shit could have gone down. Cher won an Oscar for this performance and for once, the Oscars got it right.
3. The Rich B-Plots
Moonstruck is overflowing with eccentric characters: Loretta’s insane, dog-obsessed grandpa; the sad young woman at the bakery who’s deeply in love with Ronny; a cocky undertaker; a group of old Italian men who congregate in parks to yell at each other. And somehow, in just an hour and 42 minutes, Moonstruck manages to tell at least four separate stories about the way love, aging, fear, and death are inextricable and unavoidable and ineffably romantic. My favorite secondary arc is the beautifully understated one between Loretta’s parents, Rose (Olympia Dukakis) and Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia). Cosmo can’t sleep anymore; it’s “too much like death,” and he’s having an affair with a younger woman who wears a lot of pink. Rose knows, but doesn’t confront him until late in the film. She spends the duration of her time onscreen trying to figure out exactly why, as she puts it, “men chase women” — trying to get to the bottom of male self-sabotage. It’s Johnny Cammareri, stunningly, who provides her with the pithiest and most accurate response: “I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe because he fears death.”
4. The Food
Here is an incomplete list of pornographically delicious-looking things that are eaten onscreen in Moonstruck: crispy, drippy eggs-in-the-hole; steaming fresh bread; bright minestrone; bloody steak; a gigantic bowl of ravioli with marinara sauce; sausage and peppers; piping hot oatmeal. Here’s what is not eaten: oily fish.
5. The Slap
Never in my life have I adored a scene more than this one, which hits every possible beat in the span of two minutes — lust, anger, joy, prostration, sacrifice, and the most relatable of human emotions: “I should have taken a rock and killed myself yesterday.” I can’t wait to watch it for the 45th time on Friday.
Moonstruck is available to stream for free with an Amazon Prime subscription, and is available to rent on iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, and Vudu.
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