- by Jeff Beck
Moonstruck: An Atypically Strong Rom-Com (Criterion Blu-ray)
I've never been the biggest fan of romantic comedies. Over the decades, it's been a genre that, for the most part, always seems to get mired in a very basic formula, one that puts such a film on a very predictable, and therefore a very dull, course. That being said, that doesn't mean that there haven't been exceptions, films that have managed to work even in the confines of the oft-trod beats of the familiar framework. One such film is Norman Jewison's "Moonstruck," which is being newly-released by the esteemed Criterion Collection this week. Admired right away upon its release in 1987, the film has continued to resonate with audiences ever since, but why? In celebration of its re-release, let's take a look back at this classic of the genre.
The film tells the story of the Castorini family, focusing on Loretta (Cher) and her parents, Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) and Rose (Olympia Dukakis). As it begins, Loretta becomes engaged to her boyfriend Johnny (Danny Aiello) right before he goes to Italy to visit his sick mother. Before he leaves, he asks Loretta to contact his brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), to invite him to the wedding (not doing so himself due to a dispute between them). When Loretta and Ronny meet, they quickly fall in love, putting the former's engagement in jeopardy. Meanwhile, Cosmo and Rose find themselves going through different experiences of their own, ultimately producing a tangled web of relationships for the Castorinis.
On the outset, "Moonstruck" may come off as just another one of those typical rom-coms where a couple falls in love, complications ensue, and then everything works out anyway, and while you could say that the film does follow that basic series of events, it ends up being a little more than it first appears. What the film presents is an intriguing portrait of where this trio of characters are in their life and what they want or need to do in order to find happiness (or at least contentment).
Loretta believes that she's been cursed with bad luck since her first marriage. It was a somewhat rushed and scarce affair: no proper proposal, married at City Hall with strangers as witnesses, no reception, and concluding with her husband being killed when he got hit by a bus. When Johnny proposes, she makes sure everything goes right, from him being down on his knees with a ring to planning a proper wedding. However, she openly admits to her mother that she doesn't really love him, but does like him, which is completely turned around when she meets Johnny's brother Ronny. This is a man she truly loves, which leads to obvious complications.
When it comes to Cosmo, his exact motivation for having an affair is never made clear (or even openly discussed), but it seems safe to assume that he felt he was missing something in his life, or just wanted a little more thrill. Rose is an even more interesting case, for her slight turn occurs late in the film, and we're already well-aware that she knows about Cosmo's activities. When it occurs, we're left to wonder whether it's for a kind of revenge, or perhaps for the very same reason as Cosmo. For all we know, it may be a mix of the two, though it would seem to fit the theme of the film more to believe that she too feels that something is missing.
This is all to say that the film has a little more on its mind than your basic genre-confining setup. These characters all want some kind of satisfaction in life, and their entangling relationships make it all the more intriguing as they go about trying to find it. Credit for its success must go where it's due, firstly to screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, whose screenplay makes these characters more than your typically forgettable rom-com fill-ins, and secondly to the remarkable ensemble that includes Cher, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, Vincent Gardenia, and Danny Aiello. It comes as no surprise that the film won Oscars for Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress (Cher), and Best Supporting Actress (Dukakis), while earning additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Director (Jewison), and Best Supporting Actor (Gardenia).
What we're left with is a rather delightful and engrossing film, populated with fascinating characters that actually make you feel for them (again, very atypical for a film of this type). There were probably more than a few people who were surprised to see that this was getting the Criterion treatment, but having first seen the film more than a decade ago and enjoying it just as much revisiting it now, it's not that hard to see why it's considered an important classic and/or contemporary film, or why it continues to impress audiences more than three decades later.
"Moonstruck" comes to Criterion Blu-ray in a gorgeous 4K digital restoration (in the original 1.85:1 AR), approved by director Norman Jewison. Every frame of the film is beautifully sharp and clean, making the film look brand new again. The 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is equally impressive, presenting all of the dialogue and soundtrack in a perfectly clear manner. Overall, there's not a single complaint to be had in either area, leaving you with a marvelous experience in the typical Criterion fashion.
Audio Commentary: An informative commentary with director Norman Jewison, actress Cher, and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley that delves into the making of the film.
John Patrick Shanley (16 Minutes): An interview with the screenwriter in which he discusses his career.
Stefano Albertini (12 Minutes): An interview with the literature and film scholar in which he discusses "La boheme" and its place in the film.
City Lights (33 Minutes): An interview with director Norman Jewison for the Canadian program "City Lights" in which he discusses the film.
Today: Cher, Nicholas Cage, and Olympia Dukakis & Vincent Gardenia (13 Minutes): Three excerpts from NBC's Today Show, featuring interviews with the cast of the film.
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Passions (12 Minutes): An interview with actor Danny Aiello for the AFI series that has him discussing various aspects of the film.
Harold Lloyd Master Seminar (37 Minutes): A 1987 interview with John Patrick Shanley in which he discusses writing.
At the Heart of an Italian Family (26 Minutes): A featurette that includes lots of behind the scenes footage, as well as interviews with the cast and crew.
Music of Moonstruck (6 Minutes): A featurette that looks at the influence of "La boheme" on the film, featuring interviews with Norman Jewison, John Patrick Shanley, and composer Dick Hyman.
With a sharply-written, Oscar-winning screenplay populated with compelling characters and an outstanding ensemble (two of whom won Oscars), Norman Jewison's "Moonstruck" goes beyond the typical rom-com trappings to deliver something a little more substantial and much more memorable than your standard entries in the genre.
Available on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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