“Moonstruck”: A Play as a Film?

Yesterday I was watching the old 80s wonderful classic “Moonstruck” with Cher and Nicholas Cage. I remember seeing it with friends when it first came out, and we were just mesmerized by the love story and how beautiful Cher looked at the opera. The warmth of the characters, the top rate acting, the specificity of the setting, and the ongoing reference to “La Bohème” all still make it such an appealing film decades later. While watching, I was curious as to who had written the script, as I found the dialogue to be quite strong and nuanced. I found that it was none other than John Patrick Shanley who had written the wonderful play (and directed and adapted it into the wonderful film) “Doubt.” As I watched “Moonstruck,” I read Shanley’s biography online, and there were some things that made it evident to me that Shanley has a background in playwriting. It is these playwriting hallmarks that detracted from an overall strong film.

First, the film spans just a couple of days. In a play, we might expect there to be a short time span, or just scenes that clearly demarcate a couple of time periods or that carefully show the passage of time. We are not going to see how little Kaitlyn ages from age 3 to 18 in five minutes onstage the way we would in a film. Therefore, we don’t get to see how Loretta and Johnny’s relationship developed (which is not the greatest sin, given that it was a short time.) However, we feel shortchanged to see Loretta and Ronny’s romance in such a short time; we want more, we want more dialogue with them, but their scenes are cut with scenes with Loretta’s father and her mother. Also, we want to know more of the backstory about Ronny, his broken engagement, and his issues around the loss of his left hand. A film allows us more time thanks to the highly visual elements that are integral to film. Such big conclusions, emotionally speaking, are reached but we need more time to get there. 

The direction feels a bit slow, almost in real time, the way it would be in a play. But I believe that the pacing needed to be a little bit faster, given that the characters were New Yorkers and had a sense of urgency about everything they were going through. Loretta’s mother is keen to find out if her husband is having an affair; Loretta is torn between her duty to her fiancé and her love for his brother; the community wants Loretta to plan her wedding, which is set to take place in one month. And most of all, everyone is expecting Johnny Cammareri’s mother to die at any moment back in Palermo.

Finally, like in a play, everyone is on stage at the end. This feels a bit forced in a film, as though it is staged rather than organic. There could have been different scenes to resolve the various crises in the film, but instead everyone is gathered around the kitchen table for a breakfast of oatmeal and makes their confessions or resolutions.

The scene at the opera works best, for it is something that could only happen through the magic of film, to see the grandeur of the setting and hear the gorgeous music from Puccini’s classic. We need to simultaneously be able to see Loretta and Ronny as well as her father and his mistress Mona. We need to see the Kandinsky murals, the sparkling Sputnik chandeliers, the expression on the singers’ faces, and Cher’s tears as she is moved by the beauty of the performance. Also done nicely through the film is the image of the moon, which is so crucial to the story. It is, after all, called “Moonstruck”!

It is important for those who are adapting stories or plays to make full use of what a film does. To make use of montages or visual scenes to show the passage of time and not just dialogue. To add a sense of out-of-the-ordinary to the plot by amping up the settings and effects. To use what the audience sees to fill in backstory. These are just a few things a screenwriter must consider.

Why We Don’t Have Structural Change

The last post was not in any way meant to negate the necessity of teaching about structural racism. Rather, I was trying to raise concerns about age-appropriateness and being aware of the context of whom one is teaching, as well as who is doing the teaching, and if the people that Critical Race Theory is trying to address–African-Americans–are getting to do the talking. Critical Race Theory aims to educate people about structural racism, which is a necessity. And structural racism is only one area in which we need to make structural change. The elephant in the room in the United States is class differences (something we have only been discussing more publicly since the advent of the pandemic), and then of course there is the structural change needed for women. Activists have been fervently trying to address these issues for decades, especially since the 60s, and a good deal of legislation has been enacted. But why is there still not structural change on the level we need it?

Institutions are slow to change in any context. But when we live in a culture that so adores individualism, structural change is even more difficult. People are very nice and supportive on an individual level, but may not support actions made in the law or by the government. Consider these examples.

My friend Kathy (her name and some details are changed) has lived in different parts of the world and is herself of multi-ethnic heritage. She loves traveling, meeting people of different cultures, adores children. She has a high level career in a field where she has to navigate dealing with many men. Kathy is one of the kindest and warmest people you could ever meet, always includes people in her gatherings and adored by everyone. And yet she has no faith in the government or governmental institutions, and when I expressed my horror at Trump separating children from their parents, and thank goodness we have a more compassionate administration, she mentioned that she had seen a documentary on how human traffickers dump children from Latin America, and that it is a big racket. Kathy is fed up with politics, and while I would not call her Republican, I would probably describe her as apolitical or libertarian. She dislikes both Democrats and Republicans, thinks all politicians are corrupt. I have struggled to understand how she lives with this dichotomy, how she can be so incredibly kind in her personal life and yet cannot support any sort of government actions that enact social change. I believe that this is because on an individual level, it is easier to get along with different people, but when it comes to looking at the larger scale, it involves money and politics, two things she and others does not want to involve herself in.

A gay man I met who is from the South said that everyone in his neighborhood is very kind to him and his husband, he is well respected as a teacher, and in his church. But he mentions that at the polls, people will vote differently. Again, a sign that people may be going on a personal level, but not on the societal change level. And also (according to Southerners) people will be very nice to your face, as is required socially, but think otherwise.

The Black Lives Matter movement and protests were very strong in California last summer, and people came out in droves to protest despite the pandemic. However, when it came time to vote, at the polls, voters did not approve measures for affirmative action that would’ve helped black people in education. One could argue that the number of people supporting Black Lives Matter is smaller than the number of people who don’t feel black people need any privilege (the sort of people who callously say “All Lives Matter”), and this very well may be true. But the point is, the action needed to help black people structurally did not pass. 

Think about the myriad donors to universities, educational institutions, arts organizations, etc. A symphony may not be able to survive without Mr. and Mrs. Generous Benefactor’s contribution of $5 million, and a cardiology wing of a hospital may not even be built without their money. But if you were to ask this millionaire couple if they would vote for a candidate who supports healthcare for all, it’s possible that they would not. 

Look, for example, at people who serve in the Armed Forces. While I respect these people individually, and many of them are incredibly nice and very admirable on a personal level, I do not necessarily support the institutions they serve, as I am a pacifist and feel that America spends too much money on defense rather than human welfare. 

As a final example, a woman can sleep around like a man, post nude selfies of herself online, and correct people on their sexist language. But can a woman get elected president over the most incompetent moron America has ever seen run for office? Does a woman get adequate maternity leave? Does she get affordable childcare?

It is this NIMBY-like mentality where people do not think structurally that is affecting our country deeply. Our excessive American individualism encourages us to feel that if we have done well on a personal level, if we are individually nice to others, then we have done enough. But I believe this doesn’t work. The CEO of an insurance company might’ve himself lay in a hospital bed after an injury, wondering how he was going to pay his bills, but when he’s making $20 million a year and millions still have inadequate healthcare, all his personal compassion makes no difference. Our puritanical work ethic and individualism with money are killing us; class disparity is increasing radically, and it is my belief that a class issues are a large part of what is driving problems with race as well as gender. 

No one is perfect, perhaps we are all hypocrites to some degree, and people can’t be forced to act on things they don’t believe in. My only hope is that with the current administration, America will learn to be less selfish with money and opportunities, and live up to the ideal of equality and justice for all. If true equality is not possible now, then at least we need to start working on ending discrimination, violence, and life-threatening inequality.