Monday 25 June 2007

Moonstruck (1987) Norman Jewison

I've heard a lot of good things about Moonstruck and hey, it's directed by Norman Jewison, it stars an Oscar winning Cher and there are people like Danny Aiello, Vincent Gardenia and John Mahoney in the cast. How bad could it be? It's also apparently a bright romantic comedy full of decent character development and films like that are worth their weight in gold. Well catches are individual and this one has a huge catch as far as I'm concerned.

It's not just set in New York so that everyone has Brooklyn accents, but it's full of Italians so everyone has Italian Brooklyn accents. The words 'nails' and 'blackboard' spring to mind. It also means that everyone's going to be arguing all the time and that gets so incredibly tired. I realise that some directors have an uncontrollable urge to explore American Italian culture in New York, but it bores me to tears. I usually end up wishing that Joe Pesci would come in and kill everyone just to shut them all up.

Well it starts off pretty well. Danny Aiello is Johnny Cammareri and Cher is Loretta Castorini and he proposes to her in a restaurant where they're both regulars. While they do argue all the way through the proposal, it's still a joyous occasion. They get to argue on the way to the airport so that Johnny can fly back to Sicily to visit his dying mother, but at least there's humour in it. There's even humour when she gets home to tell her father and he complains about everything and they argue and, well you can imagine the rest of the script. I'm sure there's an Italian American somewhere in New York City who doesn't argue about everything under the sun and I'd sure love to see a movie about him.

Anyway, Loretta starts off doing taxes at Nucciarone Funeral Home and that's about as cheerful as she gets and the best thing about the movie is the soundtrack. Of course before long Nicolas Cage turns up as Johnny's brother and he's as annoying as Nicolas Cage usually is. He has a wooden hand and in a fit of outrageous overacting blames every one of his misfortunes on his brother. One day I'll see a movie in which I don't want to slap Nicolas Cage silly but I haven't found it yet. At least I had the pleasure of watching Cher do it here. Yet because she's going to marry his brother and he's a nutjob, they find themselves in bed together in no time flat and everything gets complicated.

What makes this so good is that after all of these heartfelt and concerted efforts to make this the least likely film for me to even last through let alone enjoy, somehow the cleverness of the writing, the combination of a great soundtrack with cleverly loose direction, along with the excellent acting from Cher and the entire supporting cast wins through. There are some truly great scenes where the moon takes over, everyone stops bitching for a minute or two and the magic kicks in. When the sun comes out suddenly we're in a different film where I actually wanted to carry on watching.

It's not Cage, that's for sure, but somehow I could look past him and the rest of the annoyingly stereotypical Italian American crap and see something more. Puccini's La Boheme at the Met can't hurt either. Cher is superb but she's far from alone in that. There isn't a soul in the supporting cast who isn't less than excellent: Vincent Gardenia and Olympia Dukakis especially, but also John Mahoney, Louis Guss and Julie Bovasso. It's not surprising that a bunch of them won a bunch of awards, not least an Oscar for Dukakis.

Outside the standard awards, the ones this film won are telling: the Casting Society of America honoured casting director Howard Feuer and the Writers Guild of America honoured screenwriter John Patrick Shanley. It's not difficult to understand why. I forgot I was watching Italian Americans argue about everything and that's a damn fine achievement.

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