Oh, Moonstruck. You are the “Snap out of it!” heard ‘round the world, and I love you. You gave me Cher with an accent. You gave me some of the first glimpses of New York that I can remember. You gave me the best comeback line to ever have in my arsenal: “In time, you’ll drop dead and I’ll come to your funeral in a red dress.” And you gave me one of the most surefire ways to connect with someone I’ve just met. The second someone discovers the massive Cher fan in me—and, if I’m honest, it usually only takes until the introduction for that to happen—they will, more often than not, tell me that they love Moonstruck. It’s not hard to figure out why: it earned Cher her Oscar, and is therefore her best known film. Even when you go to one of her concerts and are in an arena filled with thousands of fans who likely have seen and heard everything she’s ever done, this is what gets the most applause during the movie montage that’s projected on the screens, without fail. Let’s be real here: as much as I would love it, we’re probably not going to be bonding over Come back to the 5 & Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean (okay, that actually happened once, but still).
When Kim asked me to write this post, I initially wanted to do something in the vein of my Mermaids/Mrs. Flax post, where I focused on one thing that makes the film stand out so much. But as I started my umpteenth rewatch of this movie, scouting for elements to hone in on, I fully realized that there are so many things that make Moonstruck stand out, and it would be criminal to only write about one. How could I talk about the relationships depicted in the film without also talking about how generally wonderful the players are? Or focus on the main love story of Loretta and Ronny while neglecting all of the other side stories of the film? So I present to you the things that make me love Moonstruck, the things that keep me coming back to Brooklyn and the Grand Ticino and the Met. These are the elements that, when they’re put together, create a movie that makes me so incredibly happy long after it ends.
And that, my friends, is amore.
“Where’s the Met?”
I don’t know if I’m the only one—I hope I’m not—but Moonstruck and “That’s Amore” are so connected that I can’t see/hear/think of one without calling the other to mind (the same goes for that damn Vicki Carr record). The music in this movie is so on point, whether it’s a previously released song or Dick Hyman’s score for the film. It’s the perfect accent to anything it accompanies. One of my favorite scenes of the film occurs when Loretta and Ronny are searching for each other outside of Lincoln Center, and the main reason for that is the music: that burst as Loretta steps out of the cab, the wandering feel to it as they both turn around hoping to find the other, the swell when they finally lock eyes. Just thinking about it makes me want to drop everything and watch from the beginning. But out of everything the music in this film has to offer, the use of opera is the most striking to me.
Much like the way Tea with Mussolini (my favorite of the films Cher has been in) treats visual art, Moonstruck features opera in a beautifully powerful way. Having studied music for the majority of my life, I am no stranger to opera. I appreciate it, but I don’t actively seek it out. However, for the length of Moonstruck, I am as in love with it as Ronny is. I feel the emotions; I get caught up in it. And I think the biggest reason for that is because every time we hear opera in this movie, we hear it during a pivotal scene in the Loretta/Ronny love story. Ronny has a recording on the turntable for a moment as Loretta cooks him a steak. That music swells back up again as he carries her to his bed. They’re surrounded by it at the Met, and it plays as Loretta takes Ronny’s hand as she gives into her feelings and follows him up to his apartment. It underscores the morning after, as Ronny sits alone in his apartment and Loretta walks home, kicking that can down the street along the way (again, one of my favorite things in this movie, visually and sonically).
As he tries to get just one date with her, Ronny tells Loretta, “I love two things. I love you, and I love the opera. Now, if I could have the two things I love together for one night, I would be satisfied to give up—ah, Christ—to give up the rest of my life.” For obvious reasons, we only hear opera whenever Ronny is on screen, and Ronny is almost never on screen without Loretta. To feature music that Ronny loves so deeply whenever Loretta is around him highlights his love for her to the Nth degree. In turn, we not only understand the overwhelming and rapid overhaul of both of their lives, but also feel the love Ronny has as we hear the music through his ears and see Loretta through his eyes in those moments. After all, it’s only fitting that the most important thing in his life accompanies his journey with the most important person in his life.
Most of all, the inclusion of opera in Moonstruck allows for an accessibility that I would venture is not normally associated with the art form. I personally feel the emotions of the excerpts of La Bohéme deeper when they’re associated with the action in the movie than I likely would have on my own. It’s much easier to connect with something when you have a familiar reference point to hold on to, and Loretta and Ronny’s story becomes that reference point as we hear the music that underscores their interactions. It makes me want to branch out and explore some more opera on my own (maybe one of these days, I actually will).
La bella luna
Bless this movie for making a legitimate player out of the moon. Clearly this film was going to be lousy with imagery—otherwise WHY CALL IT MOONSTRUCK—but the way in which it’s utilized in the story is stunning. Aside from a couple of mentions, the moon doesn’t become a full player in the film until dinner at the Castorini’s, when Raymond talks about something that happened while Cosmo and Rose were dating:
Raymond: I never told you this, ‘cause it’s not really a story. But one time, I woke up in the middle of the night because of this bright light in my face, like a flashlight. I couldn’t think of what it was. I looked out the window, and it was the moon, as big as a house. I’ve never seen the moon so big before or since. I was almost scared, like it was gonna crush the house. I looked down, and standing there in the street was Cosmo looking up at the windows. This is the funny part: I got mad at you, Cosmo. I thought you had brought that big moon over to my house, because you were so in love, you woke me up with it.
What follows is a sequence of scenes clearly affected by La Bella Luna. First up: Rose and Cosmo. Rose walks into the bedroom, trying to get Cosmo’s attention, but he’s sound asleep. When she turns the lights off, Rose is taken by the glow of the moonlight, walking towards the window to get a better look. What’s striking is the sadness in Rose’s eyes as she stares at the moon and sighs. It’s as if the mix of Raymond’s story at dinner and Cosmo being completely unaffected by the moon now makes her truly realize that her relationship with her husband is not what it once was. The next time we see Rose—the day after—she tells Loretta that, despite having no concrete proof, she knows that Cosmo is cheating on her. I can’t help but make the connection to Rose’s moment of solitude the night before.
Loretta, in Ronny’s bed while he’s asleep, gazes at the moon. Shortly after she walks towards his window for a closer look, Ronny wakes up and joins her, sharing a quiet and intimate moment together; it feels as though they’ve known each other and been together for a long time, rather than their reality of having just met. It’s the instance when we see that this is not just an impulsive one-off occurrence; it’s real and it’s messy, but for now it’s peaceful, a glimpse into what life could be. They aren’t worried about the consequences; they’re just in the moment, gazing up at the giant snowball.
Raymond wakes up the same way he did all those years ago, the moonlight in his eyes like a flashlight. Convinced that Cosmo is once again down on the street looking up at the window, he wakes Rita before he walks over to check for his brother-in-law. Rita shows a hint of annoyance at being woken up, but once she takes a look at Raymond by the window she softens, telling him, “You know something? In that light, with that expression on your face, you look about twenty-five years old.” And I can’t help but smile every time Raymond gets that smirk on his face and jumps back into bed. How could you not be happy to see that kind of excitement in any relationship, let alone one that is still going strong after so many years of marriage? It shows—perhaps in contrast to Rose’s fears a minute earlier—that love and passion do not have to fade over time.
And last, but certainly not least, there’s the old man howling at the moon with his dogs. Because he is a damn delight and should be doing that all the time.
“The storybooks are bullshit.”
Of course the central relationship here is between Loretta and Ronny, that impulsive whirlwind romance. But Moonstruck really goes the extra mile by wonderfully depicting other archetypal relationships on the sidelines, and it’s done in a way that doesn’t feel clichéd. They’re not going through the motions just because they need to fill some space in a film; you become invested in each of these characters, and the relationships they conduct with each other. Loretta and Johnny embody the relationship where you know you’re settling, but you’re doing it anyway because it’s the safe bet (although, even for settling, I think Loretta could have done a lot better). Cosmo and Mona clearly represent the mid-life crisis affair, while the professor who dines at the Grand Ticino perhaps falls into a similar category, as the older man perpetually chasing after much younger women (or, once he meets Rose, just women in general).
The juxtaposition of Rose and Cosmo’s marriage and Raymond and Rita’s is an interesting one, especially because it’s within the family. Both are long-term marriages, but with different trajectories. When a couple has been together for decades, it’s easy to assume that they’ll be together for the rest of their lives, and Raymond and Rita are the shining example of that. They’re playful, they’re loving, and they’re basically the portrait of the relationship endgame for this movie. In turn, Rose and Cosmo represent the kind of relationship that appears rock solid on the outside, but is distant and shaky behind closed doors. Inevitably, everything works out for the best—it’s a comedy, for god’s sake—but it certainly makes you reconsider the assumption of an uncomplicated decades-long relationship.
Stronger than these, though, are the familial relations between the Castorini/Cappomagi clan. Right off the bat, you know how important family is to these people because most of them are living under one roof. Cosmo, for one, is a pretty stoic man for the better part of the film, but when something happens to his family—whether it’s Loretta getting engaged to the wrong guy, or being confronted with his affair and the effect it has on the ones he loves—those bursts of emotion come out and you realize what is most important to him in this world. And I think without the strong family ties in this film, Moonstruck wouldn’t be half the movie it is. Let’s face it: your family is who you turn to for honest opinions on just about anything. They know your mistakes and your bad decisions, and they love you no matter what. So a family filled with the characters we’re given in Moonstruck is a family that provides that honesty with a hilariously candid twist. The bottom line? No matter how much of a crazy spiral your life is in, you can always come home, and your family will bring you back down to Earth…but not before telling you that your life’s going down the toilet.
“In front of all these people…”
I defy anyone to pick a character in this film that isn’t fully realized. Even the characters that are only passing through are so rich, you feel like you’ve seen them around more often than you actually have. Perhaps that’s due in part to the fact that they feel like people I’ve encountered many times in life. I’ve been a regular at places that have their own version of Bobo; I’ve been in the presence of couples like the owners of the liquor store at the beginning of the film, playful bickering and all. But more than that, the perfect marriage of the casting and the writing successfully pull you into an environment you don’t willingly want to leave.
For instance, part of the reason it’s so easy to get on board with Loretta and Ronny right away is the fact that you really just don’t want to see Loretta settle for someone like Johnny Cammareri. Because Johnny Cammareri is kind of gross. We only see the guy for a few minutes in the beginning and end of the film, but the impression he leaves behind is so strong that a few minutes is more than enough. Let’s go through his checklist. There’s his reaction to the professor and his girlfriend of the moment: “A man who can’t control his woman is funny” (and I’m already done with this guy). There’s his resistance and hesitation getting down on one knee and giving Loretta what she considers a proper proposal (dude, you’re trying to get her to marry you, what is your deal?). There’s the fact that he forgets to buy Loretta an engagement ring, and to top it all off, he doesn’t fully commit to setting a date. And this is all within the first nine minutes of the movie. Bye, Johnny. Don’t let the door hit you…actually, maybe it can hit you a little.
Olympia Dukakis won the Oscar for her portrayal of Rose, and if the Academy was anything like me, they wanted to throw all the awards at her as soon as she muttered, “Now he’s gonna play that damn Vicki Carr record, and when he comes to bed, he won’t touch me.” I love everything about Rose Castorini. She’s delightfully blunt and quick on her feet. Even when she’s being woken up, she is never off her game; I can’t think of a better opening line for her than “Who’s dead?” On the flip side, she’s not afraid to face her uncertainties and fears about her marriage, and sadness that shows in her eyes every now and then provides a perfect balance that saves her from being a one-note character. All in all, she’s a glorious matriarch.
I mentioned Cosmo’s stoicism earlier, but that stoicism doesn’t alienate him in any way; in fact, it makes the few times emotions get the better of him that much more striking. While his actions are sometimes questionable, I must admit that he did weasel his way into my heart with his complete and utter disdain for Johnny (and as I continue to write this post, I’m realizing just how deep my own disdain for Johnny goes. Thanks, Kim). Not to mention the fact that he drops a couple of truth bombs along the way. In his protests over Loretta’s engagement to Johnny, he shouts, “Everything is temporary! That don’t excuse nothing,” which is quite possibly the most valid argument against Johnny. Nobody knows how much time they have on Earth, so why spend that time in a unfulfilling relationship? Towards the end of the movie, when Loretta struggles with what she’ll say to Johnny, Cosmo simply tells her, “Tell him the truth, Loretta. They find out anyway.” Succinct, self-explanatory, and a very Cosmo thing to say.
I’m always so torn between wanting the old man to have all the screen time and thinking the amount he got was perfect, because he’s flawless every time, and any more might have lowered the average. Even the fact that his character is credited as “Old Man” rather than literally any name ever is fantastic. He is a welcome beacon of joy and levity in light of the few sticky situations the members of his family find themselves in. This guy puts a smile on my face every time I see him, whether he’s howling at the moon with his dogs, trying to cut the tension (“Someone tell a joke”), or just trying to figure out what the hell is going on.
Of course, I’m going to save the best for last…
The Bride and the Wolf
No love letter to this film would be complete without an appreciation of the central love story. In Cher’s autobiography, The First Time, she dedicated a chapter to the casting of Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck. The studio initially wanted Peter Gallagher to play Ronny, which makes the fact that he plays Cher’s ex in Burlesque a little more delicious. Cher wanted to go a different direction. As she put it, “Nicky would be prepared to go all the way. The first time I read the line, ‘Give me the big knife, I want the big knife,’ I could only hear him saying it.” Eventually, after screen tests with both Cage and Gallagher, the studio still would not budge, and she gave them an ultimatum: either Cage was in, or she was out.
The moral of the story? Always listen to Cher. Cher knows her shit.
What we’re given is a full on love story in centuple time. But it is so perfectly fleshed out by Cher and Cage that it’s actually kind of believable that Loretta and Ronny would meet, fall in love, and get engaged all in the course of three days (by the way, is this just something people did in the ‘80s? Even watching things like Cheers, I see storylines where two people decide they’re getting married after knowing each other for about twenty minutes and I’m sitting there like, “WHY?”). Again, this is due in part to the fact that both Loretta and Ronny are fully realized characters. Both are broken from their bad experiences with love: Loretta from her first husband’s death, Ronny from the departure of his fiancée after his accident. Between Loretta’s superstitions and determination to “get it right” this time, and Ronny’s hardcore grudge against Johnny, they’re both stunted until they meet for the first time.
Personally, if I were Loretta, I would have high-tailed it out of the bakery as soon as Ronny karate chopped that container of flour. It would be so simple to write him off as just straight up bonkers, but behind that perceived crazy is a heartbreak that Loretta recognizes and understands. It’s what makes their first interactions so satisfying. They’re both incredibly stubborn in their beliefs as to why they’re playing with the hands they’ve been dealt, but even during their confrontation, they know—perhaps subconsciously—that they each have found someone they can connect with in a way they haven’t been able to do with anyone else. Because of that, the intense spark and the abrupt and swift journey to Ronny’s bed makes so much sense; what can you do when you’re completely overcome with feeling except go with it?
One of the most interesting things about this movie—in my humble opinion, of course—is Loretta’s struggle between her feelings for Ronny and her superstitions about a successful marriage. Ronny throws her world into utter upheaval, and while she does her best to dismiss him and go forward with her safety plan, deep down she knows she’s screwed. I love how it seems to affect her differently at different moments in the film. For example, she didn’t need to make herself over for the opera date; we all know she could have just showed up in front of Lincoln Center wearing literally anything and Ronny would have been over the moon (oh, I see what I did there). But she goes to these lengths because she wants to, because she’s moved to go all out for this guy. The result? Ronny is floored, and I’m sighing over the fact that my hair will never look as flawless as Loretta’s opera hair.
In turn, that opera date forces Loretta to face the situation she finds herself in head on. Those moments during La Bohéme when she’s crying are so telling and perfect. Maybe there’s some miniscule part of her that is crying over the opera, but you know as soon as Ronny takes her hand that she’s crying over falling in love with someone who stands outside of her plan. But any chance of never seeing Ronny again disappear as he says “Why do you wanna sell your life short? Playing it safe’s just about the most dangerous thing a woman like you could do,” and at this point I’m basically shouting “JUST GO WITH HIM” at the TV, because damn. By now, Loretta feels completely helpless, because she knows she’s in deep, and her protests are pointless; the one time Cher really breaks from her accent as Loretta desperately cries out, “I’m freezing to death” is the most affecting moment for me for this reason. And then Ronny lays down one of the best lines I have ever heard in the history of film:
Ronny: Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is. And I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice. It ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. Snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us. We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. I mean, the storybooks are bullshit.
Seriously, how can you possibly resist that? Because he is right on the money. Love is messy. But sometimes it can be the best kind of messy. Sometimes it’s worth it to ditch your meticulous plans for life and just follow your heart. Sometimes everything changes in an instant. Sometimes you know who you want to spend your life with three days after you meet him. Sometimes it makes perfect sense to get engaged to one guy ten seconds after your previous engagement gets called off.
And sometimes you don’t even need him to get down on his knees to propose.