THE MOON casts such a powerful spell over "Moonstruck," women become enchanted, men turn into amorous wolves, dogs howl. The spell's so strong, it provokes director Norman Jewison into making a good movie.
Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley's moonshine also invokes fate and fortune, love and death, with a little sex -- premarital, extramarital, marital even. Like Alan ("Choose Me") Rudolph or Rene ("Under the Roofs of Paris") Clair, Shanley and Jewison create a miniworld inhabited by the spellbound. "Moonstruck's" setting -- an arbitrary, Italian corner of New York -- is the urban equivalent of an enchanted forest, where everyone goes a little crazy for a few days.
Caught smack-dab in this lunacy is Cher, understated and sweet as the 30ish Loretta Castorini, and engaged to Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). But while her fiance visits his dying modda in Sicily, that moon gives her an unexpected glow for Johnny's brother Ronny (Nicolas Cage), a handsome kid with a bum hand. And the trouble starts.
Loretta's father Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) is messing around with mistress Mona. His wife Rose (Olympia Dukakis) is trying to figure why men chase women (fear of death, she concludes). Rose's brother Raymond (Louis Guss) is feeling the aphrodisiac rays for his wife. And Cosmo's father (Feodor Chaliapin), who cares only for his five yelping dogs, thinks everyone's insane. When the multiple farce reaches its confessional finale at the breakfast table, he bursts into tears and whimpers, "I'm confused."
By this time, you've seen a pastiche of romance, farce and black humor, spiced by great comic performances. Jewison, who usually makes top-heavy films -- "A Soldier's Story," "Agnes of God," "Jesus Christ Superstar" -- has lightened up here, and with Shanley has created one of those feel-good movies where everything seems to interlock.
So many moments come to mind: When Loretta and Ronny watch "La Bohe`me" through tears of empathy at the Met, cinematographer David Watkins washes the scene in gold. When Cosmo rouses his wife (to tell her of Loretta's marriage plans), her waking reaction is "Who died?" When Cher first meets Nicolas Cage, he's stoking coals in a bakery -- a tormented soul in hell, angry about the freak accident that sliced his hand and ruined his last love affair. And now his brother Johnny's getting married. "Bring me the big knife -- I want to cut my throat!" he yells.
"Maybe I should come back another time," Loretta suggests meekly.
After seeing "Moonstruck," you might want to come back another time.
MOONSTRUCK (R) --
At area theaters.