Moonstruck is technically a romantic comedy, but for me and for as long as I can remember, it’s always been a family movie. A movie about food, too, because as a movie, it’s a full meal. It’s the kind of meal a parent cooks for their children or their partner, knowing that it gives sustenance just as much as it gives enjoyment. Lovingly crafted, confidently served, meant to savor from start to finish. I miss meals like that.
Family and food are indelibly intertwined in Moonstruck, not in the least because it centers around Loretta Castorini (Cher) and her Italian-American family and neighborhood in New York City. All of the film’s most emotional conversations take place over a meal. Johnny Cammareri’s (Danny Aiello) proposal to Loretta over manicotti and wine; Loretta’s instantaneous connection to Johnny’s younger brother, Ronny (Nicolas Cage) over steak, plain spaghetti and whiskey; her mother Rose’s (Olympia Dukakis) confrontation of her father Cosmo’s (Vincent Gardenia) affair with another woman over oatmeal and coffee.
The list goes on, but the intent is clear: Without the food, without the gathering of families and lovers over shared meals, these conversations could not happen. Food is the armor as much as it is the great equalizer, opening up the heart as it fills the stomach. People listen when they eat.
Perhaps this is on my mind “now more than ever,” as the ads remind us so often these days, because I haven’t had a real meal with anyone outside my household since March. Watching Moonstruck in November 2020 makes you ache for that kind of connection at exactly the time when it’s the most dangerous. I can’t even really think about all the depictions of both new and lifelong partnerships in this movie, which are at once a comfort and a wrench to the heart, because I can’t stop thinking about food and what it means to families. My family, especially.
The best movies take something very specific and make it universal. Loretta’s whirlwind romance with Ronny seems too absurd to be real, but it’s anchored by reality in a way that most romantic comedies forget to incorporate into their love stories. Watching characters eat in a movie is the quickest way to humanize them for the audience; maybe that’s why every single character in Moonstruck feels plucked from New York streets in 1987 and immortalized on film without a single change to their lives or personalities. That’s certainly why nothing in this film feels like a caricature. It really is the food that makes Moonstruck just as much a fairytale as it is a documentary. We can see ourselves eating the food Loretta and her family eat together, and so they feel as real now as they did upon the film’s release (three years before I was born).
Argue with me or don’t, but my opinion will never change: Moonstruck is a perfect film that justly deserves its own Criterion edition, released today. It hits me differently than it did the last time I watched it with Evan, after we were together but before we were married, or the last time I watched it with my parents, when I was in college and depressed and alone. I’m sure it’ll hit me an entirely new way when I’m old and my son is embarking on his own romances, but that’s what makes it so magical. Moonstruck is a feast that never ends.
Moonstruck is now available from the Criterion Collection on Blu-ray and DVD.