Sunday, May 9, 2010

“Do you love him, Loretta? [I love him awful.] Oh God, that’s too bad.”

Well, we're at it once again. Brad and I are writing up simultaneous posts, and at the risk of pigeon-holing ourselves after only two ventures, we're doing another Nicolas Cage movie: Moonstruck. I promise that the next OMvBLDPFM blog-off won't be about Nicolas Cage. It'll be about F.W. Marnau. Or maybe Aliens versus Predator: Requiem. Or something in between. Who knows? But not Cage-related. Probably.

Moonstruck is a multiple Oscar-winning romantic comedy from 1987 about a few days in Brooklyn when the full moon brings the trials and tribulations of love to the fore. Cher plays Loretta, a widow, who upon accepting a marriage proposal from Danny Aiello, agrees to invite his estranged brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage) to their wedding in an attempt to act as a go-between in patching up their rift while Aiello flies to Italy to be by his dying mother's bedside. Loretta, as much as she resists, falls hard and hopelessly in love with the emotionally intense and charismatic Ronny. The conflict between what Loretta wants v. what she can't resist, who she likes v. who she loves, and doing what she wants v. doing what she must is mirrored in a pair of subplots involving her father and her mother. These various conflicts play out in a close-knit, family-oriented, ├╝ber-Italian Brooklyn setting.

I had seen the first half of Moonstruck a couple of years ago. I was at a conference in Tampa when I came down with the flu. The first thing I did when I got home was brew some chamomile tea and turn on TCM. Moonstruck was on, so I laid in bed, drank tea, and watched a romantic comedy starring Cher. When later recounting this to my mom, she promptly asked me when I had turned into an old woman. My mom's opinion aside, the truth is, I really liked what I saw. It was entertaining and heart-warming in a completely comfortable and non-threatening sort of way. It turns out the movie only starts strong before meandering through some perfunctory plot points, eventually petering to a painfully unsatisfactory conclusion.

That may sound overly harsh, but given its critical acclaim and its strong beginning, the mediocrity on display is a little more painful than usual. Aside from a couple of good performances and a few good moments, Moonstruck doesn't have much to offer that can't be found in your typical romantic comedy. Not to dump on romantic comedies. Some of them can be pretty great (see It Happened One Night, The Apartment, High Fidelity, or even Notting Hill), it's just that Moonstruck is decidedly not great.

As far as its Oscar pedigree, Moonstruck picked up wins for Best Actress (Cher), Best Original Screenplay, and Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Olympia Dukakis, playing Loretta's mother, Rose), as well as three additional nominations for Best Director (Norman Jewison), Best Picture, and Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Vincent Gardenia, playing Loretta's father, Cosmo). After watching the movie, I'm convinced that Moonstruck just had the good luck of being 1987's pick for the annual non-stuffy Oscar pet. Much like Little Miss Sunshine, Juno, Erin Brockovich, The Blind Side, and countless others before them, there always seems to be one mediocre movie that has some combination of pseudo-indie (and thus "artistic") credibility and mainstream appeal that the Academy touts and rewards with undeserved attention (full disclosure: I've never seen Juno, so for all I know, it deserved all the praise it got, but the rest are painfully average, at best). The Academy seems to pick one a year and nominates it for a host of awards, presumably to draw popular attention to the bloated, meaningless, political, and ultimately very frustrating self pat on the back that is the Oscars. My guess is that Moonstruck was 1987's offer from the Academy to the hoi polloi.

Ultimately, the worst element to Moonstruck was the story. It suffers from spreading three tales of infidelity in the service of love, infidelity in spite of love, and fidelity in the face of temptation too thin over its 100 minute run time. The romance of the primary storyline never gives the viewer any reason to buy into it, it simply plugs along with a mechanical sort of "because that's the way it's written" mentality. It very obviously takes for granted the viewers' need for any kind of relational development. Not fairing any better, the two subplots are only easy to believe because they're so trite. One thing all three storylines have in common is that none of them go anywhere of interest. The ending to Moonstruck is so pointless and insulting that it borders on personal offense. If you've ever seen an ending to a movie that is a frustrating combination of obvious and so stupid you can't believe they actually went through with it, that's the ending to Moonstruck.

The beginning is comfortably enjoyable, but the movie quickly reaches an apex when Cage's Ronny delivers a manic, melodramatic monologue about the origins of the rift with his brother somewhere around the half an hour mark. There are a number of ridiculous lines that Cage delivers with a pitch perfect tongue-in-cheek earnestness, if such a thing is possible. That scene and the final breakfast table scene are easily the highlights of the movie, with Cage replacing manic, off-kilter intensity for a comical silence as he plays passive observer to the unfolding drama. Cage and Dukakis's understated performance as the somewhat prideful, always calm, and (mostly) quietly suffering matriarch are really the only two things Moonstruck has going for it. And unfortunately, that's simply not enough.

Don't forget to check out Brad's take over at Brad Liening's Daily Poem Factory-Machine.

[Note: I glanced over the last few entries, and Jesus there are a lot of typos. I'll try and put a little more effort into proofreading these things before posting them. Sorry about that. It's kind of embarrassing, actually.]

[Note: God damn it, I already found a typo and fixed it. Seriously, why is this so hard?]