A good romantic comedy should be a balm for the soul. Moonstruck doesn't provide that. It's quaint and amusing and full of good performances. It's the kind of movie you can watch with your grandmother and enjoy. The movie is not without its charms. Too bad it doesn't just whisk you into a world of wonder -- it tries to keep you prisoner.
Moonstruck tells the story of Loretta (Cher, in her Academy Award-winning performance), a thirtysomething Brooklyn widow, who is apparently happy in her humdrum life. She lives with her parents, goes to work, and looks for nothing more. Life becomes too difficult when extremes enter the picture. Her fiancé, Johnny (Danny Aiello), fits her life model to a T, a supremely ordinary man in every way, including romance. Loretta has to practically walk him through his proposal, and she always kisses him first. For Loretta, that's fine. She loved her last husband and that caused her nothing but heartache. "When you love them, they drive you crazy," her mother explains.
Loretta soon finds this out firsthand, when Johnny -- visiting his mother in Italy -- asks her to invite his long-estranged brother, Ronnie (Nicolas Cage), to the wedding. Ronnie is everything his older brother isn't -- younger, sinewy, and brimming with passion. He's barely met Loretta when he exclaims his hatred for his sibling and reveals his own plans: "I want you to watch me kill myself, so you can tell my brother on his wedding day." What woman can say no to that?
Well, Loretta can't, who is drawn to Ronnie's passion and complex nature (he's a brute who loves opera). John Patrick Shanley's Oscar-winning script uses the Loretta/Ronnie plot as just one look at the crazy dynamics of love, with Loretta's family offering other viewpoints. Her father (Vincent Gardenia) starts an affair with a woman who looks like a cocktail waitress in a feeble attempt to stop the clock, while her mother's (Olympia Dukakis) dinner date with a washed-up professor (John Mahoney) serves as a poignant reminder of how pursuing youth and beauty has its limitations.
Shanley's script conveys those messages well enough, but the proceedings are oh so hokey. Mahoney and Aiello give the best performances, and it's because we recognize our feeble, misguided selves in their romantic attempts. Every other character gets their fair share of speeches and starry-eyed moments to the point where we don't recognize the people behind the moon glow. They are swept up in romance in opera houses and charming Brooklyn neighborhoods I'm not sure ever existed.
The problems of the main characters ring true. Who doesn't know someone like Loretta who tries to balance romance and practicality like a determined chemist? And Shanley's attempt to meld Old World romance with real world sensibilities is a great idea, though the result ultimately reeks too much of concept. The parade of Italian merchants and bickerers eventually resembles something out of a sitcom or, worse, an Olive Garden commercial. Shanley spends so much time reminding us what a quaint and cute little movie we're watching that our interest isn't required. The neighborhoods will be gorgeous. Loretta will find that getting a makeover is a wonderful catalyst for love. We're watching a romantic comedy. We get it. The DVD should come with a coupon for Ben & Jerry's and a plastic spoon. Sorry, scratch that. Make it a cannoli.