Cher: The Film Collection
November 22, 2010
Norman Jewison, William Friedkin, Mike Nichols, Richard Benjamin, Franco Zeffirelli, Alessio de Paola,
Starring: Cher, Nicolas Cage, Olympia Dukakis, Sonny Bono, George Sanders, Bob Hoskins, Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci, Joan Plowright, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Danny Aiello, Meryl Streep, Kurt Russell,
Here’s a film that I bet William Friedkin would like to forget. At a time when popular musical acts like The Beatles and The Monkees were starring in movie musicals, Sonny and Cher decided to cash in on the trend too with Good Times (1967). Bored between gigs, the musical duo get an offer to be in a film (ooh, how meta!). Cher is not interested but Sonny is game. Like all films of this kind, your enjoyment of it really hinges on how much you like the music of Sonny and Cher as it is all about them after all. Good Times is basically a pastiche of movie genre spoofs and really only works on a kitschy, campy level.
Much like Good Times, Chastity (1969) is clearly a product of the 1960s with trippy visuals and a we-can-change-the-world idealism. The film begins with Cher running desperately across a beach. Where is she going? Do we care? After the fluff of Good Times, Sonny Bono went behind the camera and wrote and produced Cher in this gritty tale of a rebellious free spirit. This is the first on-screen appearance of the tough-talking Cher that we all know and love. She rebuffs creepy guys hitting on her in trademark blunt fashion, rips off a gas station and smokes a joint. Chastity is your basic counterculture hero, living on the fringes of mainstream society and sticking it to The Man. The film and the accompanying soundtrack did so badly that Cher didn’t act again for over ten years.
Silkwood (1983) is among some of the best socially-conscious films to come out of Hollywood in the early to mid-1980s. The film is based on the real-life Karen Silkwood (played by Streep in the film) who worked at a nuclear power plant and when she found out about their shady dealings and unsafe working conditions tried to blow the whistle only to die in a mysterious car accident. Cher was in the big leagues with this film, acting opposite Meryl Streep and was directed by the legendary Mike Nichols. Cher drops her glamorpuss look and gets real, disappearing into her character. She more than holds her own with the likes of Streep, Kurt Russell, Craig T. Nelson, and Fred Ward. Silkwood was a hit with critics and nominated for five Academy Awards, including Cher for Best Supporting Actress.
Moonstruck (1987) was the My Big Fat Geek Wedding (2002) of its day only infinitely better and about an Italian family as opposed to a Greek one. Watching Norman Jewison’s film again, you realize just how much Nia Vardalos’ film is heavily indebted to it. If Moonstruck is La Boheme than Greek Wedding is Tony and Tina’s Wedding. Loretta (Cher) is engaged to Johnny (Aiello). They act like an old married couple and they haven’t even tied the knot yet! And therein lies the problem – their relationship lacks passion. He is called away suddenly to Italy to see his mother on her deathbed and asks Loretta to invite his estranged brother Ronny (Cage) to their wedding. Ronny works in a bakery and is bitter over having lost his hand in a freak accident, blaming Johnny for what happened. In a classic case of opposites attracting, Loretta and Ronny find themselves irresistibly drawn to each other. Like Greek Wedding, Moonstruck does heighten ethnic stereotypes for comedic effect but the latter film does so sincerely and with class. Moonstruck perpetuates a lot of Italian stereotypes but not in a grating way, rather with affection. The crucial difference between the two films is tone. Where Greek Wedding is all cuddly, feel good sitcom, Moonstruck has some bite to it, an edge as represented by Nicolas Cage’s passionate performance. Best of all it has a wonderful sense of romantic naiveté, a cinematic love letter to New York City.
Hot off her success with Moonstruck, Cher used her clout to have two directors and one actress replaced on her next film, Mermaids (1990). Regardless of the production problems, the end result is a sweet, funny and even poignant coming-of-age story. Set in the early 1960s, Mermaids is narrated by Charlotte (Ryder), a teenage girl who dreams of becoming a nun – quite possibly a reaction to her headstrong mother Mrs. Flax (Cher) who packs up and moves her two children every time a relationship with a man doesn’t work out … which is a lot. Mrs. Flax’s wandering ways are put to the test when she meets Lou (Hoskins) who runs the town shoe store and proceeds to charm the pants of the Flax women. The chemistry between Cher, Christina Ricci and, particularly, Winona Ryder, is excellent as she plays the conservative daughter rebelling against her free-spirited mother. The young Ricci is absolutely adorable as the energetic little sister Kate who is an avid swimmer.
Coming off the commercial flop that was Faithful (1996), Cher laid low for three years before bouncing back with Franco Zeffirelli’s semi-autobiographical film, Tea with Mussolini (1999), that saw her teamed up with an impressive group of veteran British actresses – Joan Plowright, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. This film is a lavish period piece set before and during World War II and is a leisurely-paced character study set in Italy. Part of the joy in watching this film is seeing the cast breath life into these intriguing characters. The film focuses on three British women living abroad. Their daily routine changes when one of them (Plowright) takes a young boy in and raises him. Her two other friends (Dench and Smith) take turns babysitting the boy and imparting pearls of wisdom. This is something of an underrated film and it is rare that you get to see this many award-winning, critically-acclaimed actresses sharing the same space together.
Most of these films are accompanied by a trailer.