Moonstruck. What am I even doing at this party?
Well, alright, it is considered something of a classic romance film featuring an accurate portrayal of Italian Americans that does not involve them murdering each other. Plus, Cher won an Oscar for her role. But honestly, the film makes a good many mistakes that cannot simply be overlooked. The main problem? It does not create an accurate representation of Italian Americans at all, unless all Italian Americans did not come from Italy but from a Frank Sinatra single.
The plot isn’t that bad – Loretta Castroni (Cher) is a widow whose first husband was killed by a bus. At a restaurant, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aeilo) proposes to her. Castroni seems to be settling into the idea of getting married again. But Johnny goes back to Italy to look after her sick mother and asks Loretta to find his brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) whom he has not spoken to in five years. With good reason; Ronny blames Johnny for the loss of his band on a bread slicer. Loretta, strangely intrigued by Ronny’s story, ends up sleeping with him and going to the opera with him. Finding she loves Ronny more than Johnny, she must think about how she will break the news to Johnny upon his return.
I want you to watch the scene above. Notice the rhythm of the dialogue, the pacing of the actors. Listen to what they say. Imagine this stretched over an hour and forty minutes. Some people will like it – they will be captivated by the characters and the dialogue. And I would be lying if I said that his was a poorly made film. The actors seem completely into the characters – it is certainly a well acted piece. For some, that is enough, and to them I say – enjoy! There are films that do far, far worse than Moonstruck ever does.
But here is what I want to point out – this film seems to desire so mightily to be an accurate slice of life scene amongst Italian Americans in New York. It does not feel authentic at all – if Scorsese feels like authentic Italian food, then this is the never ending pasta bowl at the Olive Garden. I do not know exactly what causes the film to falter. Maybe it is the mawkish sentimentality that follows each of the characters. Maybe it is the “moon” and how it seems painted on in every single scene – if the moon were that big, certain cities would be underwater.
Or maybe, just maybe, the characters never go beyond the idea that they are Italian and thus their ethnicity is what defines their lives.
One character in the film is defined only by his muttering of how beautiful the moon is (in Italian, no less) walking dogs. Another is only defined by family loyalty and his superstition, and another by his poor treatment of women. Imagine a film about black characters who were only obsessed with fried chicken and buying Cadillacs. They could still be presented in a positive light, but such an approach would be madness. Unless you’re Tyler Perry, in which case it’s madness but the sort of madness that still makes money. Moonstruck takes exactly that same approach to the Italian Americans living in New York.
And that is just the characters. The film creates a New York that never existed. In some ways, this is fine – the romantic sentiment is touching, emotionally. But it has the feeling of artificiality. Again, the film is supposed to be a slice of life – the dialogue sounds it and the characters look it. Yet the city is the sort of city that is clearly being looked through Frank Sinatra goggles – hopelessly romanticized to the point that it seems like a paradise. I have been to New York – it is not like the one presented here, where the item that is on everyone’s mind is romance and finding “the right man.” Maybe it’s that giant matte painting of the moon. A film cannot be both realistic and fantasy, yet Moonstruck tries and I am still trying to figure out why.
Again, I need to emphasize that the film is not bad; it’s only incredibly shallow. The most symbolic item in the film is Ronny’s artificial hand and how Loretta, who seems like she has been hurt by people touching her, falls in love with a man who cannot truly “touch” her. But the fact that his hand is gone is also representative of the film itself – it seems be missing something and trying to replace that missing piece with whatever LOOKS as though it would fit. Yet the rest of us can still see that the piece is gone.