MGM // 1987 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rubino (Retired) // March 17th, 2011
"Snap out of it!"
There are plenty of romantic comedies out there that play up ethnic stereotypes to hilarious effect. Moonstruck may be one of the best.
Loretta Castorini (Cher, Mask) is a widow about to acquiesce into a second marriage with a very safe bet, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello, The Purple Rose of Cairo). Before they can marry, Johnny has to travel to Italy to see his dying mother; while he's gone, Loretta has to seek out Johnny's estranged brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage, Raising Arizona), and invite him to the wedding. Ronny is a passionate, one-handed baker who, upon meeting Loretta, falls instantly in love with her. Now, the two of them have to figure out what to do with Loretta's impending marriage.
It's easy to forget that Moonstruck is considered a romantic comedy classic. Relegated to home video shelves and re-runs on basic cable channels, I was always ready to pass on the film in favor of something a little less sentimental. After all, my generation had My Big Fat Greek Wedding and that seemed like enough. That's doing the film a disservice of course; Moonstruck is worth an honest look. Turns out, it's an exceedingly well written piece of romantic filmmaking that gets by with a boatful of charm.
The film's premise plays out simply, allowing the focus to linger on screenwriter John Patrick Shanley's expertly drawn characters. He nails the ethnic tropes of the Italian-American, Roman Catholic family without coming off as condescending. Sure the Castorinis and the Cammareris yell and flail their arms like any Italian stereotype, but they also feel real; they speak from the heart, and carry with them an underlying sadness that ethnic caricatures don't normally have.
Various scenes in Moonstruck center around an old school Italian restaurant in Brooklyn. It's where Johnny first proposes to Loretta, and where her mother, Rose (Olympia Dukakis, Steel Magnolias), meets Perry (John Mahoney, Frasier), a desperately single college professor with a habit of getting water thrown in his face by co-eds. These characters come to this restaurant so often that the waitstaff treats them like family. More than just a set piece, the restaurant is the first clue that the characters' lives are ruled by tradition and routine. They do what's expected of them, and they follow the rules (at least on the surface).
It's this adherence to safety that makes Loretta and Ronny's relationship explode like an overstuffed manicotti. Their meeting, in the oven-lined basement of the Cammareri family bakery, sends Loretta's life into a tailspin. Cher (who won an Oscar for this role) plays Loretta with an old world toughness. She's not used to getting her hair done or dressing up for the opera, but Ronny's untamed love pushes her to try new things.
It's unfortunate then, that the only real weak link in the film is Nicolas Cage. While he's certainly better here than he has been in recent years, Cage is still too inconsistent dramatically. He's really only effective when he's screaming about his missing hand or his love for Loretta. Anything below a 7 on the "Nicolas Cage Scale of Crazy" comes off as flat and insincere. With such a strong screenplay and supporting cast, it's hard for Cage to really fail; instead, he's just doing his thing, like it or not.
Moonstruck is, ultimately, a showcase for great screenwriting. The direction is fairly standard, and the music is at times a little too cheesy-Italian, but Shanley's script takes the film to a higher level. I wish I could say the same for this Blu-Ray release. The disc is just a high definition port of the old DVD release. The picture retains that late-80s washed out coloration, and has a fair amount of film grain. It's a perfectly decent transfer, but certainly not up to the standards of other Blu-Ray restorations. The sound, coming in DTS-HD Master Audio, isn't anything to write home about either.
The special features, which are only accessible from a pop-up menu in the movie (because there is no real menu), are borrowed from the Deluxe Edition DVD. There's a commentary track featuring Cher, director Norman Jewison, and John Patrick Shanley; a documentary; and a featurette about the music. If this is MGM's idea of the "ultimate high-definition experience," I think we need to have a talk.
Moonstruck may feel a little dated with Cher's big hair and New York's grimy facade, but the film's characters and dialogue are as charming as ever. It's a shame then this Blu-ray is just a quick copy and paste job. If you own the standard definition version, there's no reason to upgrade.
Review content copyright © 2011 Michael Rubino; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1987
MPAA Rating: Rated PG