Genre: Romantic Comedy, Family Drama
God, what can I say about this movie except I love it. I loved it the first time I saw it and I’ve loved it every other time I’ve ever seen it. That’s over twenty years of love and I could still watch it for twenty more.
Loretta Castorini (Cher), a bookkeeper in Brooklyn, is set to marry Mr. Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello). As she tells her mother Rose (Olympia Dukakis), she likes him but doesn’t love him. She loved once, married, then was quickly widowed and has now decided to settle for this man instead of holding out for love again. Before he leaves for Sicily to be at the bedside of his so-called dying mother, Johnny asks her to invite his estranged brother Ronny (Nicholas Cage) to the wedding.
When Loretta tracks Ronny down, she finds a tormented man – though mainly in his own mind. Dismayed by Ronny’s reasoning for the bad blood between the two brothers, she forces him to sit down for a meal (they’re Italian after all) to explain to him why he’s nuts. One thing leads to another which leads to Ronny’s bed.
Faced with ‘morning after’ guilt, Loretta argues with Ronny since he feels none. He agrees to stay out of her life if she’ll do one thing for him: go to the opera with him that evening. If he can have the two things he loves most in the world, Loretta and opera, for one night he’ll die a happy man. She agrees which only leads to another session in bed and another ‘morning after’ which is complicated by Johnny’s return after a ‘miracle’ happens and his mother recovers. So, after everyone ends up in the kitchen of the Castorini house, who will Loretta pick?
This film was nominated for 6 Oscars and won 3 of them. Cher and Olympia Dukakis were among the winners and after watching the movie, I can see why. But they’re not the only ones in the cast who don’t even appear to be acting. The supporting cast are fabulous including my favorite, Feodor Chaliapin Jr as the grandfather who says little but who is a scene stealer.
The director (Norman Jewison) and writer (John Patrick Shanley) both say that the dialogue and characters are the most important things in the film and I agree. There are no amazing special effects, no exploding anything, no car chases, no sex (though there’s a hot lead-in to what we know will be amazing sex), no pratfalls and no toilet jokes. I wish more of the current crop of Hollywood directors would pick up on the fact that you don’t need all these meaningless extras if you have a good script and pick your cast well.
I had not realized that the late Julie Bovasso, who played Aunt Rita, was so instrumental in helping the actors achieve the state of “Brooklyn Italian-Americanism” that they did but cheers to her for the results on the screen.
And bravo to everyone involved in the production for getting me to “feel” what’s going on onscreen. Let me elucidate with a particular scene. Loretta and Ronny first meet in a hot bakery basement and yeah, I can see the oven fires and Ronny sweating and intellectually I think “it must be hot down there.” But, when Ronny opens the door to the outside so that he and Loretta can go upstairs and I see the white sky though the open doorway, I can “feel” the cold air they’re going into.
The music used in the film sets the mood, carries us through and makes the movie something special in yet another way. The one place where it faltered slightly for me was the scene where Loretta is changing into her opera dress and some kind of jazzy music was included. It always sticks out like a sore thumb to me.
Despite presenting life truisms, this isn’t ever real life in Brooklyn. It’s opera in Brooklyn. Just like an opera, the main characters each play a particular role and some take their role almost to the edge of overplaying it. Where else but this surreal world could Ronny deliver these lines with a straight face?
“Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn’t know this either, but love don’t make things nice – it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren’t here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and *die*. The storybooks are *bullshit*. Now I want you to come upstairs with me and *get* in my bed!”
And where else would Loretta hear these lines and go upstairs with him and get in his bed?
Another scene which delights me is when Loretta’s Uncle Raymond and Aunt Rita romance each other in bed under “Cosmo’s Moon” thus proving that romance doesn’t end when you’re fifty. Or even sixty.
There is a subplot that some might dislike and that is the one about Cosmo and his mistress. Cosmo is made to look somewhat foolish for going out with, as Loretta puts it, “some piece of cheap goods.” In the end, Rose puts an end to the relationship but the whole issue does leave a sour taste.
Who does Loretta end up with? The contrast between the two proposal scenes says it all. Johnny has to be told by Loretta how he should propose to her – and he chooses to do so at a restaurant! – while Ronny ceremoniously presents the ring, which is actually Johnny’s borrowed pinkie ring, to her family as they’re sitting in the kitchen of the Castorini home before asking her, in front of all of them, to marry him. And if this doesn’t tell you who she ends up with, then watch the movie.