Saturday, March 10, 2012

Signal Watch Watches: Moonstruck (1987)

During the conversation that led to me seeing When Harry Met Sally, another movie that was pitched my direction was Moonstruck (1987).

When the movie was released, I would have been about 12, so you'll pardon the fact that a smallish movie about Italian-American stereotypes co-habitating with Cher and exploring love and life didn't exactly get me to the cinema.  In the intervening years, I figured I'd seen enough wacky-family comedies of this type, and just never bothered.  The "snap out of it" clip that got dredged up to show Cher's acting chops was always shown out of context and wasn't particularly...  good.

When you get stuck between The Moon and Cher and you're New York City...

Since Co-Worker Eva pitched me the movie, I'd noticed how many "good movie" lists it had come up on, and I saw that Cher had won an Academy Award for her portrayal of Loretta Castorini in 1988.  

The plot of the movie is paper thin, intended to be a cute character study of urban Italian Americans portraying the kind of family that drives each other crazy, but in a way that doesn't make the audience want to draw blood (see:  Welcome to the Dollhouse).  You have to want to pull for every character on the screen.  Here's the thing:  I am totally okay with that.

I am totally down with the fantasy, storybook tale that Moonstruck is trying to tell and the kooky family set-up.  Somehow that's far less annoying (and in some ways reflects the reality of people having lives outside of their romantic entanglements) than the storytelling of When Harry Met Sally, that puts the characters in a vacuum and insists that the lives of the characters are sympathetic and interesting when there's no architecture there to base that idea upon other than that those two characters are on the ones on the screen (plus Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fischer for some reason).  Even if the wacky family is fabricated, its a dynamic, and you can see characters at their best and at their worst, bouncing off one another, comparing and contrasting.

I won't say they don't make sweet little wacky family movies anymore, because it seems like you saw a lot of them reviewed on At the Movies and Ebert's other shows and you see mentions of them from time to time.  You just never see them actually make it to the local cinema or get many notices.  I think a small, character based comedy around family is a lot harder to put together than film makers think they'll be, as getting that balance of characters and a point to the movie without the whole thing swinging to be too twee or too unrealistic or too...  frankly, do you really want it to get too real?  Then what's the point?

This wasn't a movie aimed at me, and its not necessarily one I'd watch again (and an Oscar, Cher?  Really?), but its a sweet movie.  Cher is actually pretty good, Nic Cage is still acting during this period (and likely still taking notes from directors), Olympia Dukakis and John Mahoney are their usual great selves, and the rest of the cast are believable.  

it is so easy to forget that Cher and Nic Cage were once human, somewhat like us

Why Danny Aiello was absolutely everywhere after this movie for a period of five or six years will always be a mystery to me, but, man.

But I also have to note that a major plot point or two from this movie seem to have been ripped off, including the "she will cry as she comes to understand opera and thus love me" thing seen later in Pretty Woman (1990), which was the one moment in that movie where you didn't kind of want to slap it.  And, you know, its hard not to look sideways at My Big Fat Greek Wedding as a Big Gulp sized riff on what I hate to say was a nuanced or subtle character and family dynamic in this movie.

Which sort of brings me to the point of discussion of "is this a ridiculous movie of stereotypes"?  Well, I don't know.  Here's what I know about New York:  

I have been there twice.  Once in 1998, once in 2008.  Both times I felt like I was in a cartoon every time I talked to a local, including a cab driver who gave me sage advice.  Yes, the cab driver taught me a life lesson while speaking in a ridiculous accent which TV tells me comes from Queens, the Bronx or Brooklyn, or some such...  but I'm from the suburbs of Texas, so I have no idea.  Apparently, this is just New York.  I dunno.  I guess these stereotypes exist for a reason.

And the plot doesn't hinge on finding the family adorably crazy (unlike MBFGW), just on the relationships.

So, there you go.  Moonstruck.  Its better than a poke in the eye.


J.S. said...

Did you just use the word "twee" in your review?

The League said...

I use the word "twee" in a lot of reviews. I have an amazing @#$%ing vocabulary.

J.S. said...


Matt A. said...

Personally, I hated Nicky Cage in this movie. I'll chalk most of that up to me just not liking the guy as an actor, but that "I lost my hand!" scene just screams ham to me. It was his big chance to act, and I can't help but to laugh when I see it.

Although, I still quote the line, "Old man, if you feed my food to those dogs again, I'll kick you till you're dead." Good times.

The League said...

See, I saw that as typical Nic Cage hammy over-the-topness intended to show that his character was ridiculously melodramatic/ romantic and saw himself as a tragic figure from one of his operas. I'm not saying it wasn't hammy, but in a movie about broad characters, I thought it fit in fine.