Cage Match

Cher rescues Nic Cage from a life of baking and abrupt mood swings in this romantic film.

Moonstruck
8

Moonstruck

Release year: 1987 Posted November 2, 2013

“It’s as Ann as the nose on Plain’s face.”

Michael Bluth (Arrested Development)

As a 30-year-old gay man, do I even have the right to call a movie that co-stars Cher “disappointing”? I suppose so, this is America. I have the right to do almost anything, short of unwarranted murder, taking steroids while playing professional baseball, and drawing a picture of Muhammad. Moonstruck is so cliched, it’s simultaneously insulting to Italians, women and cinephiles. It’s not bad, just plain. It is beyond my understanding why Cher would win an Oscar for this, let alone beat Meryl Streep and Glenn Close. Nobody did anything interesting, different, or challenging in Moonstruck. It’s not even that good of a love story. It’s a basic tale of misguided passion and emotion versus practicality.

Nic is young in this movie. He hasn’t had his teeth fixed yet. Frankly, I believe he may be struggling with his self-confidence. This is my first examination of Cage as a young actor. He’s showing such restraint here, which is bizarre—like shopping for clothes with your friend who still hasn’t accepted they’ve packed on 30 pounds. Nothing really works right.

I much prefer the raw, stripped-down Nicolas Cage. The one who screams and goes on jarring diatribes that end in explosions. Even the slow degeneration in Leaving Las Vegas is preferable to this. Recently, Ethan Hawke said of Cage, “He’s the only actor since Marlon Brando that’s actually done anything new with the art of acting. He’s successfully taken us away from an obsession with naturalism into a kind of presentation style of acting that I imagine was popular with the old troubadours.” I was shocked by this accuracy. That and the admission by Hawke that he is “obsessed” with Cage.

Nicolas Cage does act presentationally and does so with such commitment and sincerity that I question the teachings of all my college theater professors. Is there such a need for realism in cinema? Ever since Ibsen rolled along we’ve only appreciated and awarded an ever-increasing number of movies and performances that remind us of how shitty life is. Argue with this statement any way you like, but this is my rebuttal, and I win, game over. What happened to enjoying a movie? Weren’t movies supposed to be an escape? When did a performance have to be understated to be good?

It seems like everybody is out to label Nicolas Cage as some sort of eccentric hack that he isn’t. He’s a troubadour. He’s a story teller. He’s good at it and more importantly there’s nothing wrong with it. Unfortunately, the instinct to go balls-to-the-wall was not fully embraced by Moonstruck’s 22-year-old Nic. The closest we get is his first scene where, like Moses, Cage gets close enough to see the promised land but never crosses over. He feels wasted here, restrained to the point of being spoiled, like what I imagine would have happened if Conan the Barbarian remained strapped to the wheel of pain for his entire life, or if someone had remembered to shut the stable door that fateful night when they cast Sex and the City.

Now, no actor except Meryl Streep can carry a movie by themselves. We must take a minute to talk about Cher. I love Cher and find her to be a fascinating human, and honestly, not a bad actress. Confidence helps where a tide of talent is constantly ebbing. There is a problem with Cher, however. It isn’t really her fault, but anything that involves Cher ends up being about Cher. There’s a certain irony in how Cher and share are homonyms. And how homo appears in the same sentence as Cher and share without the suffix -sexual.

Any vehicle involving Cher usually becomes a three-ring circus of every other actor wildly trying to support Cher. She’s the star here and you never forget it. That makes a movie, sure, but it doesn’t necessarily make a good movie. You can tell Moonstruck was Cher’s bid for an Oscar (a successful one too). It should also be noted that Cher is just a Tony away from EGOTing.

All this late ’80s Cher star power forces Nic to make her the center of attention. It’s a one-way acting relationship. There is no moment where she does anything to make Nicolas Cage look good. Think Training Day, if you’ll excuse the second Ethan Hawke reference. Support roles don’t usually get the attention they deserve and, honestly, Nic isn’t good in an all-support role. Stanley Tucci, Alan Cummings, Amy Adams—these are people who fuel star power. Nic’s skill shouldn’t be wasted like this. Once again, it’s a matter of knowing what Nicolas Cage is, when to cast him, and how to effectively use him in your picture.

There isn’t much more to say about this movie. It is what it is and that’s all that it is: an incredibly successful 1980s Cher flick. If that’s your thing, get a spoon and some chocolate syrup because you’re a kid in an ice cream store. Otherwise, I’ll stick to movies where Nicolas Cage steals people’s faces…and not in the hippie Grateful Dead way.

Movie?
Watchable despite itself
Nic Cage’s acting?
Naturalistic, restrained, disappointing but not bad
Did his performance make the movie worse?
No, it was worse because of the late ’80s