Skip to main content

He made me look the wrong way and I cut off my hand. He could make you look the wrong way and you could lose your whole head.

Moonstruck
(1987)

(SPOILERS) Moonstruck has the dubious honour of making it to the ninth spot in Premiere magazine’s 2006 list of the 20 Most Overrated Movies of all Time. There are certainly some valid entries (number one is, however, absurd), but I’m not sure that, despite its box office success and Oscar recognition, the picture has a sufficient profile to be labelled with that adjective. It’s a likeable, lightweight romantic comedy that can boast idiosyncratic casting in a key role, but it simply doesn’t endure quotably or as a classic couple matchup the way the titans of the genre (Annie Hall, When Harry Met Sally) do. Even its magical motif is rather feeble.

Which is – and I had to recheck, so lacking in import is it – that the characters’ romantic entanglements are brought on/exemplified by the occurrence of a particularly large, bright moon, very similar to the one that accompanied the courting of Loretta Castorini’s (Cher) parents (Olympia Dukakis as Rose and Vincent Gardenia as Cosmo). Loretta, engaged to Danny Aiello’s Johnny Cammareri, falls for his much younger, one-handed brother Ronny (Cage), while Rose gets wise to Cosmo’s philandering and indulges an innocent flirtation with John Mahoney’s college professor Perry, a serial-dater of his much-too-young students, who inevitably dump him (invariably by throwing a drink over him).

When Cage isn’t on screen, the proceedings are quite low-key, revelling in screenwriter John Patrick Shanley’s observations of the New York Italian community/family. Indeed, while there are stories of the stresses director Norman Jewison underwent getting the final breakfast scene right, one mostly comes away with a sense of the proceedings being too affable and relaxed, with insufficient zip to really leave more than a mildly pleasant aftertaste. There is, of course, room for that, and it’s probably exactly that inoffensively amenable quality that found such a willing audience (let’s not forget, the biggest movie of the year was offensively inoffensive Three Men and a Baby).

Cher is pitch-perfect in the lead role; this was her peak year, acting-wise (a trio of roles), topped off by an Oscar, and I think it’s fair to say, aside from a pre-nose job supporting turn in Silkwood, it’s her best performance, one in which she shows an easy, unflappable comic timing as she’s confronted by the foolish, vain men in her life. Dukakis is very nearly as impressive (why, she won Best Supporting Actress over the marvellous Anne Ramsey in Throw Momma from the Train), wryly no-nonsense about her husband’s pursuits and allowed free range in an unguarded dinner conversation with Mahoney (experiencer of a late transition to acting, he was in his mid-40s before he started attracting attention on the big screen).

There is, it has to be said, a cumulative knock-on to enlightened man Shanley writing these wise, world-weary female characters, despairing of the overgrown man-children in their lives (“You’re a little boy and you like to be bad” Rose tells Perry at one point). Premiere’s big beef with Moonstruck was precisely this: “what makes this movie less than the intoxicating meditation on romance that many have dubbed it is the men in their lives – childish, selfish, ridiculously neurotic”. I wouldn’t go nearly as far as labelling Moonstruck a miss, but it is diminished somewhat by this essential imbalance.

It helps, however, that Cage, Aiello, Gardenia and Mahoney service their neurotics with due verve. Aiello, like Mahoney a late comer to movies and only becoming a fixture in the wake of this and Radio Days (Do the Right Thing, Jacob’s Ladder, and of course Hudson Hawk would follow) is the less-than-romantic mother’s boy who has to be told by Loretta to get on one knee to propose (“It’s a new suit” he complains).

He’s also blamed by brother Ronny for the latter losing his hand in a bakery accident, after which Ronny’s fiancé left him; Ronny’s a seething mass of misbegotten clichés, not remotely a character, so it needs someone as wired as Cage to knead him into larger-than-life form. His speech about the loss of his hand is the most famous thing about Moonstruck, and it’s all Cage (“I lost my hand! I lost my bride!”), the actor parading body language inspired by Rudolf Klein-Rogge in Metropolis. Later, he takes Loretta to the opera, because it’s obviously recognised shorthand for possessing a profound soul and bottomless emotional depths (and naturally, Loretta weeps).

Ronny’s quickly tamed by Loretta, though, following a dose of cod-psychology in which she tells him he bit off his own hand (“You can’t see what you are and I see you, guy. You are a wolf”), and in response, he carries her to bed. The seventeen-year age gap between Cher – who insisted on the actor – and Cage doesn’t seem like a thing because Ronny bears no resemblance to your average 23-year-old, and because Cher, even playing greying, could be ten years younger than she is (Loretta’s only four younger). His physicality here is curious too, more resembling a young Stallone in his sloppy earnestness than flourishing the cool, hyper-styled drawl of Wild at Heart or the Looney Tunes wackiness of HI in Raising Arizona. In those early scenes, he brings a crazy energy to Ronny, and accordingly can’t help but infect anything in the vicinity (look at Peggy Sue Got Married for further evidence of this knack); he’s like Crispin Glover but with box office cachet. By the time of the final breakfast scene, though, Ronny has been thoroughly normalised, the wolf tamed, rather diluting what made the film such an intriguing prospect.

Uber critic Pauline Kael applauded the picture, with the caveat that it was “at times… a little too proud of its quaintness”; I think it’s too slight and innocuous, and self-consciously cute with the Italianate embroidery, to deserve the artful “rose-tinted black comedy” tag she awards it. Jewison and Shanley (who took home the Best Original Screenplay Oscar) don’t do anything to really make you want Loretta and Ronny to get together (other than knowing Johnny isn’t right for her, so Ronny’s the one by deflection rather than worthiness), meaning that, ultimately, it’s a romcom by theme and association rather than one engaging with the fates of its main characters in a way the audience can sufficiently get behind (Johnny is, essentially, a cypher, his thoughts only engaged with via Loretta). It’s a nice movie, but an inessential movie, such that it’s a prime example of one where you have to be prodded to recall it actually was a Best Picture contender.




Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

I can’t be the worst. What about that hotdog one?

Everything Everywhere All at Once (2022) (SPOILERS) It would have been a merciful release, had the title card “ The End ”, flashing on screen a little before the ninety-minute mark, not been a false dawn. True, I would still have been unable to swab the bloody dildoes fight from my mind, but at least Everything Everywhere All at Once would have been short. Indeed, by the actual end I was put in mind of a line spoken by co-star James Wong in one of his most indelible roles: “ Now this really pisses me off to no end ”. Or to put it another way, Everything Everywhere All at Once rubbed me up the wrong which way quite a lot of most of the time.

We’ve got the best ball and chain in the world. Your ass.

Wedlock (1991) (SPOILERS) The futuristic prison movie seemed possessed of a particular cachet around this time, quite possibly sparked by the grisly possibilities of hi-tech disincentives to escape. On that front, HBO TV movie Wedlock more than delivers its FX money shot. Elsewhere, it’s less sure of itself, rather fumbling when it exchanges prison tropes for fugitives-on-the-run ones.

We could be mauled to death by an interstellar monster!

Star Trek Beyond (2016) (SPOILERS) The odd/even Star Trek failure/success rule seemed to have been cancelled out with the first reboot movie, and then trodden into ground with Into Darkness (which, yes, I quite enjoyed, for all its scandalous deficiencies). Star Trek Beyond gets us back onto more familiar ground, as it’s very identifiably a “lesser” Trek , irrespective of the big bucks and directorial nous thrown at it. This is a Star Trek movie that can happily stand shoulder to shoulder with The Search for Spock and Insurrection , content in the knowledge they make it look good.

He's not in my pyjamas, is he?

Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) (SPOILERS) By rights, Paul Mazursky’s swinging, post-flower-power-gen partner-swap movie ought to have aged terribly. So much of the era’s scene-specific fare has, particularly so when attempting to reflect its reverberations with any degree of serious intent. Perhaps it’s because Mazursky and co-writer Larry Tucker (also of The Monkees , Alex in Wonderland and I Love You, Alice B. Toklas! ) maintain a wry distance from their characters’ endeavours, much more on the wavelength of Elliott Gould’s Ted than Robert Culp’s Bob; we know any pretensions towards uninhibited expression can’t end well, but we also know Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice have to learn the hard way.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998) An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar. Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins , and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch , in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whet

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

So, you’re telling me that NASA is going to kill the President of the United States with an earthquake?

Conspiracy Theory (1997) (SPOILERS) Mel Gibson’s official rehabilitation occurred with the announcement of 2016’s Oscar nominations, when Hacksaw Ridge garnered six nods, including Mel as director. Obviously, many refuse to be persuaded that there’s any legitimate atonement for the things someone says. They probably weren’t even convinced by Mel’s appearance in Daddy’s Home 2 , an act of abject obeisance if ever there was one. In other circles, though, Gibbo, or Mad Mel, is venerated as a saviour unsullied by the depraved Hollywood machine, one of the brave few who would not allow them to take his freedom. Or at least, his values. Of course, that’s frequently based on alleged comments he made, ones it’s highly likely he didn’t. But doesn’t that rather appeal to the premise of his 23-year-old star vehicle Conspiracy Theory , in which “ A good conspiracy theory is an unproveable one ”?