Moonstruck: Deluxe Edition
April 17, 2006
When MGM first released Moonstruck (1987) on DVD they inexplicably did so with an inferior pan and scan transfer. They’ve rectified this situation with a new deluxe edition that restores its proper aspect ratio and with a collection of new extras. Moonstruck 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.
At the time, Cage was considered an odd casting choice because of his reputation as an eccentric character actor. The way he gestures and enunciates certain words is off-kilter in such a way that it gives his scenes a wonderfully unpredictable vibe. He makes unusual choices and surprisingly they all work. He plays well off of Cher and they have that crucial chemistry that is so important for this kind of movie. His fiery, Method approach works well in contrast to Cher’s more controlled style. She won a well deserved Academy Award for her performance as a widow who, against her better judgement, falls in love again. Watching her in this movie reminds one how natural an actress she is and what a crime it is that she doesn’t act more often. Cage and Cher are well supported by a fantastic cast. Vincent Gardenia plays Loretta’s cheap father and Olympia Dukakis is her wise mother. While they have an antagonistic relationship, when it gets down to it they really do love each other.
The use of location is excellent. For example, the opening shot is of Lincoln Center (which features prominently later on) in New York City so we know exactly where we are. Most of the movie is set in Brooklyn and Jewison conveys an almost tactile feel for the borough. You want to be there and know these people. You get a real sense of community.
The warm, inviting lighting of the Italian restaurant where Johnny proposes to Loretta and where her mother has dinner with a sad sack college professor (Mahoney) has a wonderful, intimate atmosphere made up of warm reds and contrasting greens that puts you right there. There is another scene where Loretta looks out the window at the full moon in the night sky and the lighting is perfect with just the right music that results in such a touching, poignant moment. No words are spoken because none are needed with such visuals.
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 naivete, a cinematic love letter to New York City.
It’s time to use your old disc as a coaster as this edition is definitely worth the double dip. MGM has taken TBS’ dinner and a movie to the next level by including three recipe cards with fine Italian meals so that you can do your own cooking and eat it while watching the movie.
Carried over from the previous edition is the audio commentary by Cher, director Norman Jewison and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley. Both Jewison and Shanley talk about their fascination with death while Cher talks about the importance of costume and how it helps her get into character. Shanley touches upon how Danny Aiello was an under appreciated character actor at the time and this was a breakthrough role for him. The studio didn’t want Nicolas Cage but Cher fought for him, even threatening to walk off the picture unless he was cast. This is a solid commentary with smart observations and excellent anecdotes from everyone.
“Moonstruck: At the Heart of an Italian Family” takes us through the genesis of the film mixing interviews done at the time of filming (Cage and Cher) and new ones (Aiello and Dukakis). Shanley had a lot of Italian friends growing up and hung around their families soaking up the culture. Jewison was drawn to the strong dialogue in Shanley’s screenplay. There is great, behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage as Jewison and Shanley take us through the film telling several entertaining anecdotes.
“Pastas to Pastries: The Art of Fine Italian Food” is a tour of some of the best restaurants in Little Italy, in particular on Mulberry Street. You have six different places to choose from and their chefs demonstrate how to make a few choice foods guaranteed to make you hungry. If you love to cook and eat than this extra is for you.
Finally there is the “Music of Moonstruck” that examines the role that music plays in the movie. The first screening went badly because the music was all wrong. The audience didn’t know what kind of movie they were seeing. Composer Dick Hyman and Jewison talk about how crucial opera music was to the score with each character having their own piece of music.