Overstated stickiness

A tale of Italian-American twitterpation

Published: May 20 2020, 01:01:am

Friday, January 22, 1988

MOONSTRUCK. Written by John Patrick Shanley. Music by Dick Hayman. Co-produced and directed by Norman Jewison. Running time: 102 minutes. Rated Mature with the B.C. Classifier’s warning: ''occasional coarse language and suggestive scenes.”

ORDINARILY, I CAN'T SAY enough good things about Norman Jewison. Talented and personable, the Toronto-born filmmaker is living proof that nice guys can finish first.
    A Canadian who's made it in the international movie business, he is currently the driving force behind the Toronto-based Centre for Advanced Film Studies. Intelligent and socially responsible, he also happens to be one of the all-time great directors of movie musicals.
    His Fiddler on the Roof (1971) is a classic, a superb example of stage-to-screen adaptation. His Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) is a work of genius, stimulating, original and one of my own favourite films ever.
    I really want to say good things about his current picture, Moonstruck. A tale of Italian-American twitterpation, it stars Cher as a Brooklyn widow who finds love despite a life of "bad luck.”
    I like Cher. Ever since she got serious about acting, she's been a real contender, a performer with genuine presence who makes a solid impression in any role she chooses to play.
    Even so, I cringed when Moonstruck opened with Dean Martin singing “That's Amore.”  Whenna da moon hittsa your eye likah bigga pizza pie, datssamore . . .
    I hate that song.
    When middle-aged John Anthony Cammareri (Danny Aiello) gets down on his knees in an Italian restaurant to propose marriage to 37-year-old Loretta Cappomaggi Castorini  (Cher), I cringed. The ethnic overstatement is so thick that it's sticky.
    When Nicolas Cage turns up as Johnny's crippled, self-pitying, opera-loving younger brother Ronny, I experienced a small revelation. I realized that what Sylvester Stallone does isn’t easy.
    That role needed a real Italian stallion. Cage just looks twerpy, a limp leftover from a bankrupt roadshow version of Westside Story.
    On the other hand, stage actress Olympia Dukakis is perfectly cast as Loretta’s world-weary mother Rose. Her looks and manner complement Cher’s so well that they really could be blood relations.
    The problem is John Patrick Shanley’s screenplay. I just could not get with his kitchen-sink romantic fantasy, his street-poetic dialogue, operatic attitudes and bombastic, mock-Mediterranean emotions.
    When I found myself paying more attention to automobile licence plates — most of the film was shot in Toronto — than its characters, I knew that Moonstruck had lost me. I was utterly indifferent to Loretta's fate.
    I found myself wondering if Jewison has seen Les Miserables, a musical project equal to his talents, and hoping that he'll take an interest in it, rather than another urban comedy.

    Until then, we’ll be stuck with Moonstruck.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1988. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: Moonstruck was Norman Jewison’s 18th feature film, and the first of his pictures that I actively disliked. As it turned out, the above review was very much a minority report. A 1987 Christmas release, Moonstruck was among the top-grossing movies of 1988. It received six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Director (Jewison) and Supporting Actor (Vincent Gardenia). It won three, with Cher collecting the Best Actress trophy, while Olympia Dukakis took home the Supporting Actress prize and John Patrick Shanley the Original Screenplay award.
    For the California-born pop star-turned-actress, 1988 was probably her best movie year ever. In addition to winning her first (and only) Oscar, she was on view in two other features. She’d travelled to Toronto to shoot Moonstruck in early 1987, and stayed on to star in director Peter Yates’s thriller Suspect. In a darkly dramatic role, Cher played Washington D.C. public defender Kathleen Riley, who represents a homeless deaf-mute Vietnam veteran (Liam Neeson) accused of murder. Then it was off to Massachusetts, to work alongside Susan Sarandon and Michelle Pfeiffer in director George Miller’s comic horror-fantasy The Witches of Eastwick. In 1989, she was scheduled to return to Toronto for the filming of Mermaids. Originally announced as a Lasse Hallstrom project, it quickly morphed into a Frank Oz, then a Richard Benjamin picture, when its star just couldn’t get along with her Swedish-born director. The domestic comedy was ultimately shot in Massachusetts. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cher is currently practicing social distancing in her Malibu mansion, where she turns 74 today (May 20).