Film Discussion

Moonstruck (1987) – Rom-Com Rewind

The romantic comedy has proved an enduring genre for the silver screen, from the screwball comedy of the 30s to its peak in the 90s, and resurgent popularity in the 2010s. Set The Tape presents Rom-Com Rewind, a series looking at the history of the genre and how it has developed over the course of nearly a hundred years of movie history.

There is something brilliantly odd about Moonstruck that makes it a real joy. One of the biggest romantic comedies of the 1980s, it very much confirmed Cher as a major Hollywood star, earning her an Oscar for her performance and giving her two of the biggest movies of 1987 (this was also the year of The Witches of Eastwick) and bringing to the screen a none more Italian-American romantic comedy.

What’s also very evident about Moonstruck and so many romantic comedies, in general, is just how much of a character the city of New York is to the genre, even though during the 80s the city had a reputation for being as far from romantic as you could get in real life.

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New York could either be the most dangerous place in the world or the most romantic depending on the genre. It has frequently been the home to so many characters looking for and finding love and getting a happily ever after that it actually disguised the fact that during the 70s and 80s the city had a reputation for being one of the most dangerous in America. Even one of the biggest movies of the 80s, Ghostbusters, made it into a haven for the supernatural world. In the movies, if you weren’t falling in love there, then you were either a cop in an action movie or a crime lord ruling over it. Or busting ghosts.

The city became the setting for many Woody Allen films of the 70s and 80s (and let’s be honest a lot of which are problematic, not least Manhattan), but the romantic framing of the city as an American city of lovers would also find a home in movies like Moonstruck, as well as myriad future romantic comedies.

When Moonstruck debuted, it did so around the time the Edward Woodward television series The Equalizer premiered on US television, detailing a former British spy turned vigilante bringing justice to the crime-riddled streets of the city, with a title sequence that was probably more representative of the atmosphere of the city in real life (even if the stories were somewhat preposterous).

John Patrick Shanley’s script for Moonstruck and Norman Jewison’s direction would refashion the city into one more reflective of a modern-set fairy tale, one where the presence of the biggest moon ever in a movie could lead to new loves and new possibilities, to hope and forgiveness. Forgiveness is in massive supply here. This is a movie where the majority of characters are on the cusp of infidelity for the most part, and where the lead character breaks off her engagement to find new love, although one that is a better fit for her. It says a lot about how lovable and charming a film it is that not only do we buy the amount of forgiveness that is doled out in the film’s final moments, but we actually want it to happen.

Every scene of Shanley’s screenplay (which would win one of the film’s three Oscars, of which it was nominated for six) is a masterclass in how to construct a film made up of brilliant scenes that play into each other. Nearly every scene is a superbly played moment that builds and builds wonderfully to its feel-good ending, but none of it would work if it weren’t for the cast assembled here, and that goes for the none more brilliant pairing of Cher and Nicholas Cage.

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It is perhaps the most Nicolas Cage performance imaginable, and a reminder that before he became one of the most popular cult actors in the age of social media, gifs and memes, he was a considerable movie star presence. He has become such a cult figure that not only are a lot of his career choices of late seemingly cult favourites waiting to happen (Mandy, Color Out of Space), it’s easy to forget that he has had the unique trajectory of going from quirky leading man to Oscar winner to blockbuster movie star to one making questionable career choices.

It was only fifteen years ago that he starred in The Wicker Man remake and played and performed scenes that were frequently made fun of (although, to be clear, it was a terrible film and would have been so with anyone in the lead role), but he has always made choices that have pushed the weird factor to other realms and as a Ronny, a baker with a wooden hand, a love of opera and intense manner of delivering… every… line… of dialogue, it’s perhaps an example of pure unadulterated Cage, but one with a considerable amount of weird charm placed on top of it.

None of it would work without the chemistry of its two leads, and as a screen pairing Cher and her co-star have considerable sparks that cannot help but draw you in. The film has a light, floating feeling, and that is helped by the two performances and characters at the heart of Shanley’s screenplay.

One of the biggest stars in the world, Cher became a prime example of how to go from being a massive pop star to a respected actress. She had been building up a great body of work in the years leading up to Moonstruck, with Mike Nichols’ intense conspiracy drama Silkwood and Peter Bogdanovich’s Mask, roles that stripped away the glossier leanings of her pop career for more grounded and realistic personas.

Romantic comedy logic dictates that she get a makeover and go from her professional and realistic attire to something more glamorous for the film’s final stretch when Loretta and Ronny go to the opera, but remarkably the film posits both its lead characters for a makeover. Admittedly more attention is placed on Loretta becoming a ‘better looking’ version of herself, but Ronny also gets to go from sweaty, vest-wearing baker in a perpetual angry state, to a tuxedo-wearing handsome romantic lead for the second half of the movie.

It’s almost as if the film takes the moon conceit that is leading to so many romantic possibilities and uses it to take two realistic characters and make them the gorgeous looking leads of their own romantic comedy, one with opera, big speeches and formal declarations of love. That opera scene is wonderful and eventually leads to a climax where so much of the film’s plotlines come to a head at the breakfast table and a coming together of much of the main cast for an ending that gently builds in drama and good humour.

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On top of Cher and Cage, there’s also a brilliant Oscar-winning performance from Olympia Dukakis as Loretta’s mother, Vincent Gardenia as Loretta’s father, and Danny Aiello as her fiancé, whose character is funny but as romantic comedy logic dictates is neither charming nor interesting enough to win the affections of our lead who is merely settling for him and who we all know is better off with the unpredictable charms of Ronny.

On paper, a romantic comedy starring Cher and Nicholas Cage might seem like some an odd pairing, and for the most part, there is a touch of the surreal just on the periphery of Moonstruck that inadvertently plays into that, but it wouldn’t work if the movie didn’t make us truly believe in it, and by the time the end credits roll to Dean Martin’s ‘That’s Amore’, the film has more than worked its charms on you.

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