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MOONSTRUCK

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 13, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: My wife and I recently watched this one again and it holds up marvelously, a delightful film in every respect. Cher won the best-actress Oscar for this one, which also took home awards for best supporting actress (Olympia Dukakis) and best original screenplay (John Patrick Shanley). Vincent Gardenia was nominated as best supporting actor, Norman Jewison as best director and the film itself as best picture. The prestige label Criterion Collection has issued a new Blu-ray edition packed with special features, so here’s my review, which was published on Jan. 15, 1988.

 

Yeah, I’m “Moonstruck” over this movie, and for a lot of reasons.

 

It’s light, romantic, funny, loaded with wonderful characters — “Moonstruck” is one of those pictures that was once so common it was taken for granted, and these days is so rare we tend to over-praise them when they do come along.

 

Think of the classic romantic screwball comedies of the ’30s and ’40s, like “It Happened One Night,” “My Man Godfrey,” “Bringing Up Baby,” etc. What made them so memorable?

 

The writing was bright and funny but never condescending; the supporting characters, and the actors who played them, were as funny and as impressive as the stars; the stories, though exaggerated for cinema, were believable, and many of the plot points and lines of dialogue struck universal chords with the audience; and they were warm and romantic without being overly sentimental.

 

All of this also applies to “Moonstruck,” so bright and wonderful that it almost seems to have come from another era, despite a few profanities and implied sex (which account for the PG rating).

 

       

 

              Cher, Nicolas Cage, 'Moonstruck' (1988)

 

The story has Cher as a widowed member of an Italian family in Brooklyn. She accepts a marriage proposal from a good man she doesn’t love (Danny Aiello), hoping her “bad luck” will change this time around.

 

But Aiello is off to Italy to attend to his dying mother and he asks Cher to go to his estranged brother (Nicolas Cage) and try to patch up the brothers’ relationship by personally inviting him to the wedding.

 

Little do either of them suspect Cher and Cage will fall in love, thereby complicating matters considerably.

 

But this is no ordinary romance. Cher may emotionally be falling for Cage, but intellectually she is determined to marry Aiello because he is the more stable of the two.

 

Meanwhile, her parents (Vincent Gardenia and Olympia Dukakis) have problems of their own as Gardenia is trying to recapture this youth through an affair and Dukakis is trying to decide what to do about it.

 

There is also the grandfather who has a pack of dogs that seems to grow in number every time he brings them home from a walk; an aunt and uncle who find themselves feeling younger and more in love under the influence of the ever-present full moon; and an unprincipled professor who doesn’t have much luck with younger women.

 

One of the things that makes “Moonstruck” so special is its capacity to build as it goes along. The film is warm and funny from the start, but as it progresses the characters become more charming and endearing, and the situations become funnier and funnier.

 

        

 

             Olympia Dukakis, Cher, 'Moonstruck' (1988)

 

All of the actors are superb in their roles and the ensemble quality achieved by director Norman Jewison is very successful. Jewison in recent years has stuck to drama — “Agnes of God,” “A Soldier’s Story,” “Iceman,” and perhaps his best-known work remains the brilliant “In the Heat of the Night.”

 

But Jewison’s first films were comedies and he has always come back to that (even his most serious dramas have some very funny moments). And in “Moonstruck” he has also struck gold.

 

Perhaps the highest kudos, however, should be reserved for the wonderful script by John Patrick Shanley. Here’s a movie that, from all appearances, would seem to have a screenplay that the studio left alone for a change. And for good reason. Shanley knows how people talk and his dialogue is sharp and witty, but he also knows how people act, and though at first glance these characters may seem somewhat eccentric, aren’t they really just like us?

 

This is one of the best romantic comedies to come along in many a moon, if you’ll pardon the pun, and if you’ve been holding out for a warm and funny romance to pull you back to the movies, wait no more. “Moonstruck” is the movie for you.