Criterion Review: MOONSTRUCK

Nicolas Cage and Cher shine in this rapturous romance


A full moon, a New York City night, and love and music in the air . . . One of the most enchanting romantic comedies of all time assembles a flawless ensemble cast for a tender and boisterously funny look at a multigenerational Italian American family in Brooklyn, wrestling with the complexities of love and marriage at every stage of life. At the center of it all is a radiant Cher as Loretta, an unlucky-in-love bookkeeper whose feelings about her engagement to the staid Johnny (Danny Aiello) are thrown into question after she meets his hot-blooded brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage), and one night at the opera changes everything. Winner of the Academy Awards for best actress (Cher), supporting actress (Olympia Dukakis), and original screenplay (by playwright John Patrick Shanley), this modern-day fairy tale is swept along on passionate Puccini melodies, and directed by master storyteller Norman Jewison with the heightened emotion to match.

Chemistry matters. Especially in any film revolving around romance. In Moonstruck it extends beyond the two mesmerizing leads. The large Italian-American family that surrounds them spark off each other and infuse the tale with warmth. Behind the scenes too, with the director, screenwriter, and co. all seem in simpatico. It’s chemistry that counts, and Moonstruck has it in spades. Believing she is cursed in love after her first marriage ends in tragedy, Loretta Castorini (Cher) takes her time and follows tradition when being courted by her boyfriend Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). He eventually proposes, but soon after has to travel to Sicily to be by the side of his ill mother. Before leaving, he charges Loretta with inviting his estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to the wedding, as a means to try and repair the gulf between them after an incident years before. Loretta’s visit to see Ronny unleashes more then either expected, and the restraint that once held her back is peeled away by his fiery charms.

A romantic comedy of circumstance and conflict, Moonstruck sings thanks to lively direction from Norman Jewison (Fiddler on the Roof, The Thomas Crown Affair ’68) and a delight of a (Academy award winning) screenplay from plawright John Patrick Shanley (Joe Versus the Volcano, Doubt, Congo). They wheel out some of the tropes you’d expect in a romantic comedy, but they all feel ingrained into the story rather than an indulgence. The dialogue, and the characters feel familiar and relatable, and yet so unique. Moonstruck perfectly exploits its setting of New York, not just through the texture and vibrancy of the city itself, but it’s status as a cultural home to Italian Americans. Embracing that culture, from start (thanks Dean Martin), its refreshing to see it not played out for yet another mobster movie or caricaturist comedy.

At the center of it all are the two leads. Cher, well deserving of her Oscar win for her performance as this endearing firebrand. She leads the film, and forges a character that you both fear and cheer. Cage channels his own particular brand of madness into an impassioned and tortured young man, often tilting the film into more of a melodrama. You can see envision how Ronny’s backstory involving a bread slicer would be a gift to an actor of his ilk and boy does he deliver. The chemistry is not limited to the two leads either, that Italian-American culture is manifest in the family members who share the screen, with their own quirks, tales, and positions on love. Julie Bovasso, Louis Guss, Vincent Gardenia and Olympia Dukakis (winning best supporting actress that year) to highlight the key players that contribute to the feeling of authenticity, charm, and warmth that permeate the entire film.

The Package

Criterion’s releases celebrates the lived in quality and beauty of the film. Clean imagery, a healthy and natural representation of palette, a cinematic grain persists nicely throughout. The texture and detail of New York showcased with assurance thanks to deep blacks and fine contrast levels. Extra features impress too:

  • New interview with screenwriter John Patrick Shanley: A great dive into the writer’s upbringing, personal life, and career, highlighting his contributions to the stage and big screen
  • New interview with scholar Stefano Albertini about the use of opera in the film: Recorded in Italy, the writer breaks down how La Boheme is deployed in the film. A very insightful contribution from someone clearly well-versed in the subject matter
  • Introduction from 2013 featuring Cher: Hosted by the always affable Leonard Maltin, the piece largely revolves around how Cher got into character, and championed the casting of Cage
  • Interviews from 1987 with director Norman Jewison and actors Cher, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, and Olympia Dukakis: Taken from a segment on NBC’s Today Show to promote the film
  • Interview from 2002 with actor Danny Aiello: An interview from the AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Passions series. Focusing on the ‘love story’ aspect, Aiello shares his experiences during filming, his thoughts on director Norman Jewison, and about his work to get that Brooklyn accent down
  • Audio interview from 1989 with Shanley about screenwriting and the development of Moonstruck: Part of the American Film Institute’s Harold Lloyd Master Seminar series. Shanley delves into his process of writing the film and his personal experiences that guided him
  • At the Heart of an Italian Family, a 2006 program about the making of the film: A wonderful glimpse at some of the rehearsals for Moonstruck
  • The Music of “Moonstruck,” a 2006 program featuring interviews with Jewison and composer Dick Hyman: Conversations with composer Dick Hyman, director Norman Jewison, and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, about hos musical influences (notably La Boheme), shaped the production
  • Audio commentary from 1998 with Cher, Jewison, and Shanley: One of the best audio commentaries I’ve heard in a long while. Packed with detail on the production, casting, tales from filming, and script development. There’s a real warmth to the trio in how they dive into things and look back on making the film
  • Trailer:
  • PLUS: An essay by critic Emily VanDerWerff: In the liner booklet, which also contains information on the restoration/transfer

The Bottom Line

Nicolas Cage and Cher shine in this rapturous romance, a love letter to this pair, the city of New York, and the genre itself. Superb direction married to a sharp and sweet screenplay, while charming talent fill every corner of the screen. Above all things, it perfectly captures the intoxication of being swept up in the arms of another. Moonstruck is a delight that receives a wonderful treatment from Criterion.

Moonstruck is available via Criterion from November 17th

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