Release Date(s)1987 (November 17, 2020)
Studio(s)MGM (Criterion – Spine #1056)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Romantic comedies are a staple of Hollywood, but many lack distinctiveness. What makes Moonstruck different is its exceptional script and a first-rate cast that makes the characters flesh and blood, flawed individuals. The comedy derives not from jokes and wisecracks but from unique, quirky personalities.
Loretta Castorini (Cher) is a bookkeeper in her mid-thirties who lives with her close-knit Italian-American family in a three-generation household. She was married but her husband died in an accident two years later and for the past seven years she has avoided love. She does have a long-time beau, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). When Johnny surprises Loretta with a proposal, Loretta considers that marriage with him would be a pragmatic arrangement and says yes. Johnny is about to leave for Italy to see his dying mother and asks Loretta to invite his long-estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to the wedding. Loretta tracks him down at work and finds a sweaty baker who is missing one hand and blames Johnny for his accident and the bitter event that followed.
Loretta persuades Ronny to talk a bit, one thing leads to another, and soon she finds herself in Ronny’s bed. Embarrassed and fearful of romance, Loretta wants to forget about the one-night stand but Ronny senses they are kindred spirits. He begs her to go with him to the opera, declaring that she and opera are the two things he loves most.
Meanwhile, Loretta’s mother (Olympia Dukakis) is worried that her husband (Vincent Gardenia) is seeing another woman on the sly and wonders throughout the film why men chase women.
Loretta is torn between her promise to Johnny and her growing affection for the passionate Ronny. Guilt, confusion, coincidence, and a chance meeting put things in perspective while posing still more questions. A full moon has its effect as it casts its romantic spell and affects the characters in unexpected ways.
Cher, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role, is totally believable. She mastered the regional accent and fully inhabits the character of Loretta—outspoken, sensible, self-reliant, resistant to falling in love again but also caring, nurturing, and devoted to family. With small gestures and expressions, Cher makes Loretta real. There’s an authenticity about her performance, whether pouring a glass of champagne for her father late at night, demanding a ring when Johnny proposes, or smacking a lovesick Ronny and demanding, “Snap out of it.”
Cage’s best scene is his first, in the basement of the bakery with the hot oven behind him. Unkempt and sweaty, he seems more animal than human as he rails about his misfortune and ruined life. His monologue narrates why he and Johnny are estranged, and inadvertently reveals that the reason for his resentment makes no logical sense. He labors day after day at the ovens in the basement of his bakery, away from people, wallowing in self-pity. Cage makes the most of his dialogue, with emphasis and pauses that elicit laughs, but he remains true to character throughout, never resorting to self-parody.
Danny Aiello’s Johnny values Loretta but is reluctant to commit to a marriage date. He is the ultimate mama’s boy, frequently rushing off to Sicily to be at the bedside of his mother, who has been issuing alarms about her imminent death for years, and is dominated by Loretta in their relationship. Johnny lacks the passion that his brother cannot contain.
Olympia Dukakis as Loretta’s mom is excellent. An observer of life, Mrs. Castorini always has an apt comment ready at a crucial moment but is genuinely heartbroken that her husband is stepping out with another woman. Stoic in the face of familial crisis, she ponders the situation philosophically, asking various characters why married men philander.
Julie Bovasso and Louis Guss as Loretta’s aunt and uncle have small roles but are memorable because they come across so vividly. They play an indelible part in the ensemble that gathers in the Castorini kitchen in the film’s climactic scene. John Mahoney, who plays a girl-chasing college professor, has a good scene with Dukakis when his character joins hers for an impromptu dinner and pours out his heart while she tries to understand what drives men to pursue women.
The script by John Patrick Shanley (Doubt) is terrific and captures this Italian-American family both comically and touchingly. Never maudlin or sugary, the dialogue crackles with wit and insight into human nature. Never farcical, it is about relatable folks, ones we recognize. Far from perfect, they are like most people—looking for happiness, confused when obstacles prevent it, and resilient. Director Norman Jewison (In the Heat of the Night) makes the most of this superb script and great cast. The story is original but has the feel of a play, with its limited locations and dialogue-driven plot. In its down-to-earth simplicity, it makes ordinary people complex and interesting. Jewison uses the camera to advantage but doesn’t let it intrude.
Featuring 1080p resolution, the new 4K digital restoration from the original 35 mm camera negative was undertaken by MGM and The Criterion Collection, and approved by director Norman Jewison. Dirt, debris, and scratches were manually removed. The film is presented in the widescreen format of 1.85:1. The color palette varies. The most outstanding use of light occurs in the moonlight scenes. A composite was made of actual New York City locations and a large, full moon. On a moonlit night, moonbeams throw shadows from lace curtains on Loretta’s aunt and uncle and Venetian blinds’ shadows line the faces of Loretta and Ronny. Interior lighting approximates actual lighting. For instance, in a late-night scene in which Loretta and her father share a glass of champagne, the harsh light comes from a ceiling fixture, throwing downward shadows. The basement where Loretta first meets Ronny is dark and windowless, with a flaming oven constantly baking bread. It’s an awful workplace, suggesting Ronny’s tortured existence. He even says at one point, “I have no life.” The restaurant interiors feature atmospheric lighting. Scenes of Loretta walking to work in the beginning of the film feature the bustle of traffic, while a later scene, when Loretta comes home early in the morning after a night at Ronny’s, shows her walking alone on a quiet, traffic-free street as she dreamily kicks a can.
The English 5.1 DTS-High Definition Master Audio surround soundtrack was remastered from a magnetic track. Optional English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear throughout. The Brooklyn dialect spoken by most of the actors sounds authentic, especially from Cher, Aiello, and Julie Bovasso, a dialogue coach herself who worked with the actors on their pronunciation. Dean Martin’s rendition of That’s Amore plays under the title credits and an aria from La Boheme underscores the operatic nature of the story. The singers’ voices soar. A bit of It Must Be Him by Vikki Carr is heard from a record that Loretta’s father plays constantly. The hot, flaming bakery oven makes a roaring sound as Ronny stands slavishly over it. Dick Hyman’s score is used unobtrusively to accompany non-dialogue scenes and contributes to the mood. Cage and Cher speak loudly in a few scenes, while Olympia Dukakis never raises her voice above a conversational level. Sound mixing is good, with dialogue, music, and ambient sound well balanced.
Bonus materials include an audio commentary; an introduction by Cher; a new interview with writer John Patrick Shanley; a new interview about the opera in the film; 1987 interviews with Cher, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, Olympia Dukakis, and Norman Jewison; an interview with Danny Aiello; two featurettes; the theatrical trailer; and a booklet containing a critical essay.
Audio Commentary – This 1998 commentary features Cher, Norman Jewison, and John Patrick Shanley. There is a lot of talk about death in the film. Shanley and Jewison read the script out loud, taking the various parts in the script. Cher notes that she gets into a role once she’s in costume on the set. The restaurant interior had to be re-created in the studio because the restaurant owner wanted to keep serving meals when filming was going on. Danny Aiello came to acting fairly late in life. He has a beautiful speaking voice and great comic timing. Moonstruck marked his first major role. Cher had trepidation about being convincing as an Italian. The original title of the film was The Bride and the Wolf, which sounded like a horror film, and the first re-write was called Moonglow. Nicolas Cage had the toughest role. He played a poetic baker obsessed with opera. Jewison insisted that the chemistry between Loretta and Ronny had to be perfect. He had another actor in mind for the role of Ronny, but Cher felt Cage was the right actor. Jewison asked her to screen test with both Cage and the other actor, and she agreed. Jewison wanted the film to feel like an opera. Each character has his/her own “aria,” leading up to a “great crescendo.” Each scene builds to a climactic moment. Because the film crew had a great location—the Metropolitan Opera—they wanted to “revel in it and accomplish as many things as possible,” getting as many of the principals affected by the event. The final scene, in the Castorini kitchen, caused problems and conflict. Jewison rehearsed and rehearsed, and there was considerable temperament on the set. When tensions were high, he began to film and eventually got what he wanted. Cher refers to Norman Jewison as one of the best directors she’s worked with and making Moonstruck was one of the best experiences she’s had making a film.
Introduction by Cher – This introduction was filmed on April 24, 2013 as part of the American Film Institute’s Night at the Movies program. Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin introduces Cher, who thanks Julie Bovasso for working with her on her Brooklyn accent. She wanted Nicolas Cage for the role of Ronny and threatened not to do the film if he wasn’t cast. Her favorite scene was when Loretta tells her father (Vincent Gardenia) she’s going to get married again.
John Patrick Shanley: An Author’s Note – This interview with the film’s screenwriter was recorded in New York in July, 2020. Shanley talks about his upbringing in the East Bronx. He attended Catholic parochial school, wrote poetry as a young man, and notes that his family was good at telling stories. He took up playwrighting at age 22. His plays were produced but didn’t make much of an impression. He worked by painting apartments and as a moving man to make ends meet while he was writing. After reading a few screenplays, he felt they were filled with purple prose but came to realize the language indicated how things would look on screen.
Stefano Albertini – This interview with literature and cinema scholar Stefano Albertini was recorded in Bozzolo, Italy in August, 2020. Albertini discusses Puccini’s La Boheme and the way the opera contributes to the unique tone of Moonstruck.
City Lights: Norman Jewison – This 1987 interview was recorded for the Canadian TV program City Lights. Interviewed by host Brian Linehan, Norman Jewison discusses his approach to storytelling and the production and success of Moonstruck.
Today – Three excerpts from NBC’s Today Show are featured along with behind-the-scenes location filming at Lincoln Center. Jim Brown interviews Cher and Nicolas Cage. Olympia Dukakis and Vincent Gardenia, who play Loretta’s parents, are interviewed, and a scene of them with Cher from the film is shown.
AFI’s 100 Years… 100 Passions – This 2002 interview with Danny Aiello was recorded for AFI’s 110 Years… 100 Passions program, a TV special on the American Film Institute’s choices for the hundred greatest love stories in American cinema. In it, Aiello talks about his experiences working with the rest of the cast and director Norman Jewison, and about learning the Brooklyn dialect.
Harold Lloyd Master Seminar – These audio excerpts were recorded on May 3, 1989 as part of the American Film Institute’s Harold Lloyd Master Seminar series. In them, playwright, screenwriter, and filmmaker John Patrick Shanley discusses his creative process and his experiences writing the script for the film.
At the Heart of an Italian Family – This 2006 program features footage from rehearsals for the film as well as interviews with director Norman Jewison, screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, and members of the cast and crew.
The Music of Moonstruck – This 2006 program explores the influence of the Giacomo Puccini opera La Boheme on the development of the characters in the film and features interviews with composer Dick Hyman, director Norman Jewison, and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley.
Booklet – The 12-page accordion-style insert booklet contains an essay by Emily Van Der Werff, seven color photos, a cast and key crew list, and information about the 4K transfer.
– Dennis Seuling