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I admit that I have been known to enjoy a well constructed romantic comedy. As a film genre it is typically the cotton candy of cinema; light, fluffy and unencumbered by substance. That is the usual way that these flicks tend to pan out, but it is far from the entirety of the genre; some examples are notable by the strong story they have to tell. One movie that readily fits into this category is ‘Moonstruck,' arguably one of the best Rom-Coms in existence. This genre is known for being better received by the public than critics and award shows. It is exceedingly rare to hear the title of this kind of film read the phrase, ’ and the winner is…’ this film is the proverbial exception that proves the rule. "Moonstruck’ is not only one of the better instances of this kind of movie but it holds up as a movie by any standards quickly earning the critical acclaim it garnered. This resulted in making this movie just a little more special on an increased level of relatability, the setting gets some bonus points. The film is not only set in my home town of New York City but in particular Brooklyn Heights, a neighbor I have often frequented. That vantage point of personal familiarity transforms the streets and denizens of the area as pivotal characters in the story. It isn’t necessary to understand the particular ethnic group depicted here, but it helps. The Brooklyn Italian family is more than tightly knit they form a social dynamic that needs to be witnessed first-hand to glean the slightest inclination of what makes it work in such a unique fashion. I know the characters here have gone to school with them and sharing many meals with them. That is after all around a table full of food that the Brooklyn Italian family comes to life. This carries the movie far above other romantic comedies making it a sweet, sensitive film that packs an emotional impact even the guys watching will readily appreciate.

As is the case with any great film the screenplay must provide a rock steady foundation. Fortunately, the script used here was a masterpiece created by one of the industry’s best writers, John Patrick Shanley. He took home a best screenplay Academy Award for this movie, an accomplishment he would repeat just a few years ago honoring his script for ‘Doubt.' Both stories have something fundamental in common; the heart of the story based on regular people living within the confines of a tightly knit neighborhood. In ‘Doubt’ I could immediately recognize the nuns at the center of the story having had my knuckles rapped on more than one occasion by them. With ‘Moonstruck’ the people are real, not just written to emulate reality but through an honesty that is woven into their very core. This differentiates this movie from other, lesser examples of the romantic comedies. In those flicks the characters are likable enough but typically vapid, caricatures and hollow stereotypes of believable human beings. This has the collateral effect of the design of the plot lines. Situations are far-fetched, frequently based only on unbelievable coincidence. The audience is forced to accept the unacceptable relying too much on the suspension of belief. Fortunately for those of us who prefer some semblance of rationality to our fiction, this film is a refreshing slice of life.

Loretta Castorini (Cher) is an Italian-American who works as an accountant for as few local businesses including her uncle’s delicatessen. Loretta is on the other side of the mid-thirties, and according to the precepts of her ethnocentric upbringing that is dangerously close to the dreaded state of spinsterhood. There is a slight glimmer of hope for her belabored mother, Rose (Olympia Dukakis) and father Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia); Loretta has a boyfriend, neighborhood barker Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), who has taken to final step proposing marriage. It bears noting for the elucidation of those not blessed by being raised in Brooklyn. I have family and friend in both the Greek and Italian communities and the choice of Ms. Dukakis to play an Italian mother works. While there are differences between those of Mediterranean descent, have many rich similarities in their cultures. The already tenuous set of relationships is disrupted further by the arrival of Johnny’s younger brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage). In a subtle plot point indicative of Stanley’s neighbor flavored scripts Ronny lost one hand in a tragic bread slicing machine accident. He blames Johnny for both the accident and the resulting loss of his fiancée. They begin to commiserate with each other about how unhappy they are and their misfortune in romance. One thing leads to another and before they know what hit them they spend a passionate night together. Naturally, this results in an inordinate amount of guilty for Loretta as the morning breaks. Following is the predictable call to keep the events of the night secret; not to be mentioned even between each other. Right on cue, Ronnie is madly in love with Loretta asking her to go out with him to the opera.

This may make it sound like the story is hackney and predictable, in some respect it is. The difference lies in the insightful treatment the writer provides breathing new life into a familiar set of circumstances. Part of it is fixing the story in a working class neighborhood. These are not the overly perfect looking people typically used in the genre. Loretta stopped in the local beauty parlor to cover her gray hair and hid the wrinkles. You never see that in the rom-com dealing with the beautiful twenty-year-old characters. The masterly constructed screenplay is given life by the skill and experience of the director, Norman Jewison. He received Academy Award nomination for this movie and six others on his resume. Many of his films hailed among the great works of cinema especially those relating to characters the audience can readily understand on an instinctive emotional level. He is also an actor’s director; instilled with the wisdom to know when to give free reign to his cast to amazing performances. When combined with the star power of this group of actors the result is magical. Cher may be best known for her over the top, campy stage act but this film proved she earned the Oscar she received for this performance. Dukakis rightfully won hers for Best supporting actor while Cage is at his quirky best. This resets the romantic comedy bar and has never been matched.

Posted 03/04/11            08/27/2017

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