Bella Lunacy

Bella luna, my beautiful, beautiful moon, ahh
How you swoon me like no other

-“Bella Luna,” Jason Mraz

Full moons tend to get cast in horror movies (usually accompanied by a howling sound). You never see them in comedies, unless it’s a couple of cheeks. In “Moonstruck” however, the moon stretches its range and goes for romantic comedy. The result is quite illuminating.

The story goes something like this. The night before he flies to Sicily, where his dying mother lies, Johnny (Danny Aiello) proposes to his practical girlfriend Loretta (Cher). She accepts, but only after he’s told to get down on his knees and produce a ring, even if it’s only a pinky ring. Loretta’s first and unconventional marriage has been a catastrophe and she wants the next one to follow custom. Johnny doesn’t object and even gives her full reign on planning the wedding. But before he leaves, he tells her to invite his estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage), whom Johnny had never seen due to “bad blood.” After five years of no communication, it’s time for reconciliation. However, when Loretta finally meets Ronny, she finds him very distraught and vengeful. She tries to reach out to him, but in the process, something goes wrong… or depending on perspective, something goes right. Either way, Loretta finds herself in a compromising position.

I didn’t see Cher as Italian until I saw this movie. She’s Cher after all; she’s a culture all on her own. It’s refreshing to see this performer toned down. She turns Loretta into a believable character with grey hairs no less. And she carries a combustible energy, which is set to explode in that famous “Snap out of it!” double slap. As her foil, Nicholas Cage is good here too, although this isn’t the seasoned actor we know today. Here’s a proof that Cage has been perfecting his craft for the last two decades. I loved his two 2005 movies (“Lord of War” and “The Weather Man”) but I’m not feeling “Ghost Rider” when I saw the trailer.

I believe the real strength of “Moonstruck” is its screenplay by John Patrick Shanley (who won the Pulitzer just last year for the play “Doubt”). There are talks of wolves and lambs, of fortunes and curses, of risks and fears, of love and betrayal, and the drawing power of a full moon. But what the movie really addresses is the human behavior when it comes to love. One can be sensible and smart in choosing a partner, in marriage. But in love, we are all fools. The movie shows this neither by slapstick nor on a whim of fantasy. It stays true to its grounded characters, relying on them to mold the story. They never turn into cartoons or people overpowered by destiny.

And yet for all its realism, the movie also becomes magical with the symbolic and glowing presence of the full moon. The luminous figure towers over the movie silently but it sometimes gets the blame. The moon is said to beckon the inner wolves to act out. (Is that such a bad thing?) Maybe the moon simply illuminates us from all angles of good and bad. It’s a moment where we can be full, be whole. Maybe that’s amore and it’s something to howl about, in a scene of joy and not of horror.

Grade: A

Cher, Nicolas Cage, Vincent Gardenia, Olympia Dukakis, Danny Aiello, Julie Bovasso, John Mahoney, and Louis GussScreenplay by
John Patrick Shanley
Directed by
Norman Jewison
Rated PG