“Moonstruck”: a contrarian review

June 15, 2021 • 12:45 pm

I hadn’t realized that you can see some full movies for free on YouTube, though the selection is limited. But there are a few highly rated films among them, one being the 1987 film Moonstruck, starring Olympia Dukakis, Cher, and Nicholas Cage. The first two people won Oscars for their performance as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress, respectively, and the movie also got the Oscar for Best Screenplay.

Here’s the movie if you want to watch it for free, and it’s legal to do so.

As I said, the movie was highly regarded, though, according to the Rotten Tomatoes summary below (click to read), better regarded by critics than by viewers—though the latter still liked it a lot.

Since I was able to watch this movie for free, and remember liking it when it first came out, I decided to watch it again. But this time I wasn’t so keen on it.

I won’t go into detail with a full review, and the plot is simple.  Italian widow Cher is engaged to be married, but falls in love with her fiancée’s wild younger brother (Nicholas Cage), who happens to have both a wooden hand (his brother is said to be responsible for the hand loss in a bakery accident) and a great love of opera. Cher gets smitten by Cage and even by opera, though her traditional family is appalled by her choosing the younger brother over her stolid and boring fiancée. In the end, everything’s hashed out over breakfast, and the fiancée doesn’t want to marry Cher after all because he harbors a superstition that marrying her will kill his ailing mother. Cher and Cage pledge their troths, and everything ends happily.

Why don’t I like the movie so much? Well, the highly touted acting isn’t as good as I remembered it, and the plot is pretty predictable once it gets going. Further, the attraction between Cher and Cage simply isn’t credible to me. They fall into bed immediately, suggesting it’s largely physical chemistry, but it’s clearly more than that. Yet we never understand what’s motivating them to contemplate marriage or what’s driving the relationship beyond sex. Cage seems to be a loose cannon, and Cher plays a woman with a good head on her shoulders. Their conjunction is hard to swallow.

In other words, this is a romantic comedy that I see as fluff. The screenplay is good, the acting credible, but I’m still baffled about why the film got nominated for those Oscars. Were the standards different 35 years ago? I don’t think so, for when I ponder When Harry Met Sally, one of my favorite “rom coms”, it was made only two years later. Yet it seems so much better, as if it were about real people rather than pawns manipulated to fulfill a predestined conclusion.

Well, that’s my say, and I expect many will disagree. Do you remember Moonstruck? If you do, or manage to watch it above, weigh in.

The title, by the way, comes from the superstition that when there’s a big full moon, people start acting crazy. I suppose that’s one explanation for the relationship between Cher and Cage.

82 thoughts on ““Moonstruck”: a contrarian review

  1. I saw it when it came out, and have seen it several times since, although probably not in more than ten years. I’ve always loved the movie, although I think I love it more for the supporting cast than for Cher and Cage. (He, in particular, seems like he could have been replaced with any number of other actors without loss.) I’ve often thought that the plot is supposed to mirror an opera, but I don’t know enough about opera to be sure. The only complaint I have is that it seems like the bank deposit is going to become a bigger issue; maybe at one point it was going to. As Gerald Mast used to say, you don’t introduce a gun in Act I, if you aren’t going to use it in Act III.

  2. I loved Moonstruck when it came out! But I was a lot younger, loved the idea of being swept off my feet, etc., and I’m not going to ruin the memory by watching it again. Now being 65yo, recently widowed, it won’t be the same . But thanks for the memory!

  3. I have watched it at least once. I agree: It’s OK. Not great. Never thought it was.

    I can generally give a pass to Nick Cage — very little of his work impresses me. I think my favorite movie starring him was The Weather Man which no one seems to have heard of.

    I agree on When Harry Met Sally. Another Rom Com I like is You’ve Got Mail.

    I’m not real big on Rom Coms; but I see them because my wife wants to see them. I can usually enjoy them. I don’t like super-hero movies or fantasy movies much either, usually. Or car chase movies, though I like crime thrillers.

    1. The only Cage performance in a movie that I’ve watched that I thought was more than merely okay was Raising Arizona.

      I haven’t watched it in decades so I’ve no idea how well it might have aged with me, but when I originally saw it I thought it was a stand out.

      My favorite Cher is the Sonny & Cher show.

        1. It is definitely an odd movie. I found it quite funny, and Cages laconic performance suited the movie perfectly. As if it was written for him.

          1. The Coens have never made a real clunker. The critics (and, judging from the box office receipts, moviegoers) didn’t care much for Ladykillers, but I liked it and think it’s Tom Hanks’s best performance. I’m not that crazy about Hudsucker Proxy or Intolerable Cruelty, but I love almost all their films, starting with their first, Blood Simple. They’ve made more than a handful of truly great movies — Miller’s Crossing, Fargo, No Country for Old Men, and Lebowski among them — and never a really rotten one.

            1. Honestly, Raising Arizona ranks among my least favorite Coen films. As you said, they’ve never made a bad movie, but I rather enjoy The Ladykillers (Hanks is indeed brilliant) and even Intolerable Cruelty. Their remake of True Grit was completely unnecessary…and then I saw it and it turned out to be completely necessary. As with so much of what they do, everything about that remake is perfect. I don’t dislike Raising Arizona, but I don’t think it’s brilliant either.

              Actually, now that I think about it, there is one movie they’ve made that I geuinely consider somewhere between mediocre and just plain crap: Burn After Reading. Great premise, but the characters, plot, acting, and writing have let me down every time I’ve tried to watch it, which has been many times over many years. I finally learned to stop trying a couple of years ago. I hate that movie, and while I can usually see redeeming qualities in something I hate, I just don’t see those qualities in BAR. I thinks it’s just a bad movie. I may not like A Serious Man very much, but I understand what they were doing and I think they achieved it. I see exactly what they were trying to achieve in BAR, and I think they failed miserably.

              1. I love the two scenes, here and here, in Burn After Reading at CIA headquarters between J.K. Simmons and David Rasche in which they act as a Greek Chorus of sorts commenting on the main of the action of the film.

                That, and the use of the Fugs’ “CIA Man” over the closing credits.

                For me, those are the highlights of the film.

              2. I think I know that scene – loved it.

                The actor was in the series Sledge Hammer! which I learned after – perhaps a cult favorite.

                Now I need to read what a Greek Chorus is.

              3. Exactly: it had a couple of good scenes. The movie overall is pretty bad and simply doesn’t work.

                At least, that’s the opinion of this one brute.

      1. Nick Cage was pretty feakin’ good in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation. Hell, you got two Nick Cages there for the price of one.

        Although he’s sure been in his fair share of crap, no doubt about it.

        1. I get Spike Jonze and Spike Lee confused for some reason. (I am not a Spike Lee fan. His style doesn’t work well for me. Not sure why.

          I liked BlacKkKlansman but didn’t really get the hoopla about it. Though I thought John David Washington was excellent in the lead role.

          1. Have you seen Do The Right Thing? Of the Spike Lee joints I’ve seen I think that one is the best, and a pretty good movie in any context.

              1. OK, I did like Malcolm X a lot.

                I haven’t seen Do the Right Thing though I’ve meant to. I’ll have to watch it. I watched She’s Gotta Have It and thought it was just OK.

          2. Spike Jonze has worked on a couple other projects with the great screenwriter Charlie Kaufman — including directing his script for Being John Malkovich and producing Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York.

            Adaptation is the story of Kaufman’s tortuous efforts to write a screenplay from Susan Orlean’s great nonfiction bestseller, The Orchid Thief.

        2. I haven’t seen that one, but I’ll put it on my list.

          Speaking of Spikes, I reviewed the Wikipedia entry for Raising Arizona before commenting about it and, among other things, found this . . .

          “Bilge Ebiri considers Raising Arizona to be “the Coens’ masterpiece — their funniest movie, and quite possibly their most poignant as well”.[24] The Dutch magazine Vrij Nederland placed its bank robbery scene second on their list of “the 5 best bank robberies in film history”, behind a bank robbery scene from the 1995 thriller Heat.[25] Actor Simon Pegg described the film as “a living, breathing Looney Tunes cartoon” during a BFI screening.[26] Pegg’s friend and frequent collaborator Edgar Wright has stated that Raising Arizona is his favorite film of all time. Likewise, Spike Lee put Raising Arizona on his “Essential Films” list.”

      2. I did like him well enough in that. But I’ve never been a fan of his acting since in every part he plays, he plays Nicolas Cage with maybe a quirky affectation of some kind thrown in. He does not have any real range.

        1. Cage in Leaving Las Vegas might change your mind. It’s a tough movie to watch but Nicolas Cage nailed it.

    2. I have not seen Moonstruck and doubt that I will watch it. Nicholas Cage seems to be in many, many, movies. I don’t understand why and in general, if he is in a movie, I avoid it.

    3. Everything you just said. Except I find about the same fraction of rom coms good as most other genres. Maybe the genre just attracts the bad directors, writers, and producers.

  4. I’ve never seen Moonstruck, but I have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark. I watched it again at Christmas for the first time in many years. I was shocked at how bad it is.

    1. Indeed, some movies do not age well. (Or we age on a different track from the movie.)

      Raiders is pretty clichéd and shlocky. It appealed to my much younger self. I think it appealed because it came before so many super-hero type movies. Before the big special effects, etc.

      Watching old movies, I find that movies really have gotten better, for the most part, with some notable (old) exceptions.

      Watching, for instance Rocky and some other movies I loved in the 1970s when they came out, my impression is mainly how slow moving they are. We’ve become less patient.

      A couple of movies that have aged well (for me) are: Amadeus (still as funny and sad as it ever was) and Polanski’s Tess.

      1. Not a movie, but a TV series: I binge watched the BBC version of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy the other day. It’s absolutely terrific. Objectively, it’s slow by modern standards, but I never felt anything less than totally captivated.

        1. Amazing series, but you know what’s even more amazing? That Gary Oldman was an even better George Smiley than Alec Guinness. Gary Oldman is a damn treasure (which isn’t to say that Guinness wasn’t!). Oldman and Philip Seymour Hoffman: the two greatest actors of the last few decades, in my humble opinion.

            1. I thought it did a remarkable job compressing such a complex plot into only two hours. Not even a bit of it was difficult to understand. I appreciated the writing and direction as much as the performances.

              The series and the movie are two different beasts, but when it comes to playing Smiley, I thought Oldman did a better job of playing the character’s understated, thoughtful, quietly strategizing nature.

      2. “Watching, for instance Rocky and some other movies I loved in the 1970s when they came out, my impression is mainly how slow moving they are. We’ve become less patient.”
        I’ve been trying to educate myself on “classic” cinema, and this is exactly the complaint my partner gives whenever we try to watch one of the films together. She’ll say she just doesn’t have the attention span for old* films, acknowledging how slow they feel after the last few decades of quick cuts and fast-paced plots.

        Modern cinema rarely allows for a moment of boredom – for better or worse.

        *The cut-off being ~1990.

      3. Isn’t the Raiders of the Lost Ark series of movies intended to be schlocky and cliched? Are they not a send up of a certain style of old adventure movie (and of themselves) ?

        1. That is my impression, plus the intended audience is juveniles – boys, I’d say shamefully un-PC…

          I hazard a guess that Spielberg and Lucas know movie making is significantly about re-packaging of old ideas such that they look new.

          It wouldn’t surprise anyone that for it – or any movie, really – the audience would gradually shed the suspension of disbelief, or become mature.

          I’d still maintain Raiders was important in movie making. It isn’t mostly “schlock”.

    2. Well, if at one point Raiders was your standard for what is good, it only follows that you would like movies better than that, and, ultimately, it wouldn’t seem good anymore. As the prof says, that’s my theory, which is mine.

    3. I think that is an over the top condemnation – I thought the setting, the period scenery/wardrobe holds up – Denholm Elliot, Rhys-Davies performances have some excellent expressive moments – as a music buff, the Raiders march captures the spirit of the main character precisely, I think… the soundtrack also has great moments… the chase in the desert? No good anymore?

      … I’d also point out, as you probably know, Raiders was fashioned from the forgotten old adventure serials…

      1. I’m sorry, but the acting by people playing fairly minor parts and the music cannot save the film. Just listen to the dialogue: it’s absolutely terrible. My parents, neither of whom had seen it before and were therefore coming to it without preconceptions were of the same opinion as me.

        1. Indiana Jones is not a one-dimensional character – there is complexity. He is flawed.

          The music is an integral part, to any movie.

          I’d say is it has dated sections, and I am wiser – knowing some of the illusion, copying, and fantasy that is behind it. I still think the flow/directing of it holds up as decent cinema.

          But it is for juveniles, essentially.

        2. What about the gun fight in the bar in Nepal? I think that is a … I guess… masterpiece. There’s actually no music – rather rare, I think, in modern cinema.

  5. I’ll take this opportunity to plug the Bradley Cooper / Lady Gaga A Star Is Born from 2018. Just before we saw it (in a very nice theater), we watched the 1954 version (Judy Garland / James Mason) and the 1976 version (Barbra Streisand / Kris Kristofferson).

    I very much prefer the 2018 version to either of the earlier ones (I have not seen the 1937 original), though all are good films. Lady Gaga knocks it out of the park. Who knew Bradley Cooper was a good musician?

    1. I thought Gaga was great in the A Star is Born remake, and I was impressed by Bradley Cooper’s heretofore hidden musical talents. But [SPOILER ALERT] I don’t think the film adequately set up his suicide. I mean, he peed his pants on stage, right? Big deal. Or — at the risk of approaching the analysis of a mass-appeal movie somewhat pretentiously — his actions lacked the “objective correlative” identified by T.S. Elliot in his essay “Hamlet and His Problems.” 🙂

  6. Hey, boss, they can’t all be The Last Picture Show or Five Easy Pieces or Mr. Malick’s Days of Heaven or what’s that other one you like so much? … you know, the artsy-schmartzy one where the Japanese chick cuts off her boyfriend’s johnson? … Oh, yeah, I remember: In the Realm of the Senses. (I kid! I dig all those same movies, too.)

    Moonstruck‘s okay. I’d probably watch it again if I were flipping channels and it came on. But I wouldn’t walk a few blocks to see some special 35th anniversary showing on the big screen.

      1. Yeah, When Harry Met Sally was a good movie. But, you ask me, Nora Ephron’s real talent lay as a prose stylist rather than as a screenwriter or filmmaker. I’ll take her books and magazine articles over her filmography any day.

  7. I always liked this movie but when I watched a little of it a few years ago, I also found it didn’t hold up well. Actually, I find that most movies don’t return the same punch on subsequent viewings. This is especially true of comedies since we’ve heard the jokes already. Horror is even worse in this respect for analogous reasons. Also, many of the best scenes in Moonstruck appear quite often in cultural retrospectives so they lose their surprise.

  8. I’m offended that they used an Armenian-American and a Greek-American to portray characters who were Italian-American. Where’s the outrage?

  9. Loved Moonstruck. Saw it many years ago. The best line out of Moonstruck, aside from the “get over it” slap was when Olympia Dukakis asked why men chase women. Johnny said “men cheat because they fear death”. It struck me as funny then and just as funny today. It was a Brooklyn movie, I grew up there, so there is that as well.

  10. Moonstruck is a great movie because of the script. One of the funniest movies ever.
    The scene at the breakfast table at the end is a riot…..classic!

  11. Tried watching it years ago. Couldn’t finish and never went back. Just didn’t like the characters.

  12. I’ve tried watching it twice when it’s shown up on TV and could never get past the first few minutes. Cher and Nicholas Cage are hit and miss for me – I loved her in The Witches of Eastwick but nothing else I’ve seen her in – I loved him in Raising Arizona but can’t think of a single other movie I liked him in.

    People talking about remakes – one of my favourite Bogart movies is Sabrina (1954) and I thought I would hate the 1995 remake, but it turned out to be surprisingly good.

    I also wonder sometimes whether movies that don’t hold up years later relates to having seen them in a theatre vs watching them on TV. The experience isn’t the same.

    1. Nicolas Cage (not Nicholas according to IMDB) has done some good films, IMHO, besides the ones others have mentioned: Honeymoon in Vegas, Guarding Tess, Leaving Las Vegas, Con Air (upstaged by Steve Buscemi).

      1. Cage has been in a bunch of crap, but he’s given some pretty good performances over the years, too. Leaving Las Vegas and Raising Arizona were two of his best. He was also pretty good in 8mm.

  13. I never saw Moonstruck when it came out – and I’m still glad I didn’t. I dislike Cher, overrated talentless woman that she is. Though it made a big splash at the time I’ve always wondered so I’m glad you put in the effort to let us know about Moonstruck. I’m still glad I avoided several hours of Cher.
    Cage is good though. I’ve enjoyed Lord of War, Leaving Las Vegas, 8mm, etc. Cheers!
    NYC https://whyevolutionistrue.com/2020/06/10/photos-of-readers-93/

  14. I watched Moonstruck for the first time during lockdown. I didn’t mind it, though rom coms aren’t really my thing so I’m not sure how it compares to others in the genre. More than anything Nic Cage’s character was so over the top that it just felt awkward to watch. (I think he can give great performances – Adaptation and Raising Arizona are two that immediately come to mind.)

  15. I know it’s not a romantic comedy in the traditional sense, but any time someone says the words “romantic comedy,” all I can think of is Annie Hall and how no movie has ever come close to living up to it in the decades since it release, and that it’s almost impossible that any movie ever will. Annie Hall is so singularly brilliant in so many different ways that it just doesn’t seem like any movie could ever reproduce its combination of audacity and many unique writing and performance qualities. To use such a diverse set of devices (some of which still have not been replicated to the same standard to this day!), have them all work together so well, and throw in the wondrous one-liners, scenarios, performances, and direction to boot is just…it’s just something so special. So very, very special. And accessible regardless of whether or not you get the more obscure references and jokes.

  16. I like this movie for a whole lot of reasons but that marriage is NEVER going to work. Forget about it. Great passion in the beginning & then some kids & then he starts messing around with one of the young girls at work. She doesn’t take it well.

  17. You probably noticed that Harry and Sally were both UChicago grads, with the opening scene shot on location on the campus.

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