36 Years Later, 'Moonstruck' Is A Surprisingly Modern, Gen-Z-Friendly Love Story

We’ve had hits and misses when showing our kids our favorite ’80s and ’90s films. For instance, Home Alone is, in retrospect, a look at bad parenting and cartoon-like violence, and though my youngest son laughed through it, it was more of a horror-laugh than a funny-laugh. On the other hand, the boffo violence in Raising Arizona tickled both our kids, and I fell in love with that movie all over again once I recognized it as a homage to parenting.

On the heels of our success with that Nicolas Cage movie, I wanted to watch Moonstruck, which I consider an all-time fave. My husband and I invited our theater-major college child to watch with us. He’s trans and a social justice warrior, and I found myself doing a mental rundown of everything that happens in the film that might be offensive. I warned that the sex might not seem consensual. I honestly couldn’t remember, and ’80s films are often problematic. But we sat down and started it up, and I have good news.

The central love story is super silly — and sweet.

Not only does Cher’s character verbally consent (“I don’t care. Take me to the bed!”), but she and Nicolas Cage’s character actually talk. A lot. There was no texting in the ’80s so when her fiancée asks her to invite his brother to their wedding, she has to call the brother up, then visit him. Their first meeting is ridiculous and iconic (“Johnny has his hand! Johnny has his bride!”) and leads to… conversation!

Loretta (Cher) tries to be an armchair psychologist to Ronny (Cage). (“You’re a wolf!”) They fall into bed together; then he invites her on a date, which ends with him doing his bad-but-good psychoanalysis, too. That leads to the most famous speech of the movie, with a fantastically unhinged Cage saying, “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.”

Their passionate arguments are even more fun than I remembered. And if you’re worried: The sex scene doesn’t show anything except horizontal kissing in bed. After, it cuts to them next to each other with some skin showing. It’s tame, honestly, and sex-positive, but Common Sense Media rates it at 13+ for “mature themes.”

A big theme is faithfulness, via unfaithful acts.

Speaking of mature themes, Moonstruck should probably come with trigger warnings for anyone who has dealt with a cheating spouse. The subplot is Loretta’s father cheating on her mother. To its credit, the movie makes him look like an ass and makes the mother the moral compass. (The role won Olympia Dukakis the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress).

There’s no sex shown with the dad; it’s him giving another woman gifts and squiring her around. The jig is up when Loretta runs into the two of them at the opera. Of course, Loretta herself is cheating on her fiancée. (Dad: “I didn’t see you here.” Loretta: “I don’t know if I saw you here or what.”)

Here’s what I like about the movie’s handling of infidelity: It explores why a husband would cheat, and it’s not because the wife is boring or the other woman is hot. It settles on a man’s fear of death. It’s calling out male midlife-crisis affairs for what they are. There are some great scenes with John Mahoney, who went on to play Frasier Crane’s dad in Fraiser, pondering “why men chase women.”

By the movie’s end, the father has promised to end his affair, and Loretta has ended her sham engagement to the man she never loved, Johnny. You learn at the start of the movie that she doesn’t love Johnny, just likes him, so though my kid was at the edge of his seat waiting to see how everything would work out (OMG, that last scene with everyone at the breakfast table, waiting for Johnny to walk in!) it ties up as neatly as a Hallmark holiday film. And it’s such a sweet and happy moment when they all toast “to family” at the end.

There was one other thing I warned my kid about — but didn’t have to.

There’s a long sequence in Moonstruck when Loretta is getting ready to go out with Ronny. She gets her grays covered in the local salon and buys a dress and heels. She lights a fire in the fireplace and takes her time putting on lipstick. (Loretta is not a mom, needless to say!) It leads to a big reveal at Lincoln Center, with Nicolas Cage standing at the fountain and turning around to see Cher looking like a million bucks.

“Movies used to always have to have a big makeover for the main female character,” I complained, thinking about Grease and Pretty Woman and Miss Congeniality. I felt apologetic that they had to turn Loretta “pretty.”

But when I talked about that with a mom friend, Lisa, a few days after we watched, Lisa felt emphatically that it was not the usual makeover trope. “First, Ronny loved how Loretta looked from the start, so it’s not like she needed a makeover to win him,” Lisa said. “Loretta never took time for herself! She was selling herself short as old and widowed at 37. (Her first husband died unexpectedly, which is why she’s settling for Johnny.) In Lisa’s opinion the long makeover scene was Loretta finally recognizing her self-worth and deciding she deserves love. Bravo!

In modern terms: Loving yourself makes it possible to love others.

Once I recognized that Lisa was right, I saw that Moonstruck carries a very modern message of self-love being crucial for being able to love others. No wonder my Gen Z kid approved! I would recommend watching it with a teen or young adult, and I definitely recommend it as a romantic movie to watch with your partner. (Couple goals: To be like Loretta’s aunt and uncle in old age.) There may be better love-centric movies for younger kids, but for those ready to see love in all of its glorious messiness, I still love Moonstruck.

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