Favorite On-Screen Couples Week 4: Loretta Castorini and Ronny Cammareri-Moonstruck

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Greetings,readers! This week I finish my month-long salute to my favorite on-screen couples. I’ve saved one of the best for last: Loretta And Ronny from Moonstruck. Remember a few years back when the big hit was My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Moonstruck was one of the original culture clash romantic comedies. And it’s one of the best romantic comedies ever made.

In the film, widowed bookkeeper Loretta Castorini (Cher) lives. First, Loretta agrees to marry a man she does not love, Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), simply because he knows how to propose properly. Before the wedding can take place, Cammareri must visit his dying mother in Sicily. In his absence, Loretta is supposed to try to patch up the differences between Johnny and his brother, bakery operator Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage). Having never forgiven Johnny for indirectly causing the accident that crippled him, Ronny flies into a rage whenever his brother’s name is mentioned. He does, however, fall for Loretta like a ton of bricks. After a torrid affair, Loretta tries to avoid Ronny out of respect to Johnny, but he’s just too fascinating to resist. Meanwhile, Loretta’s father (Vincent Gardenia) is fooling around with his mistress Mona (Anita Gillette), while Loretta’s mother (Olympia Dukakis) is wooed by a college professor (John Mahoney). These brief flings are forgiven and forgotten, but there’s still the delicate situation of Loretta being in love with her future brother-in-law.

The whole film is full of rich,wonderful characters,especially Loretta’s parents. Olympia Dukakis richly-deserved the Oscar she won. The screenplay by John Patrick Shanley is one of the best I have ever seen. Loretta comes from a large,crazy Italian family. But this film is for anyone who’s ever had a crazy family,regardless of their nationality.

Loretta and Ronny are a great couple not just because of the unorthodox way they come together,but because of the fascinating way their relationship grows and the reaction everyone around them has to their being together. The first meeting where Loretta goes to meet Ronny to ask him to come to the wedding that ends with them sleeping together is handled with just the right tone. It doesn’t feel forced at all. The chemistry between the characters feels genuine from the word go. The next morning,Loretta says what happened was a mistake. This is where we get probably the most quoted line from the movie,”snap out of it!”

Moonstruck is like a comic opera. That’s appropriate given that it centers on an Italian family. Let me give you an example of the great writing in this film. Loretta and Ronny go to the opera. On the way out of the opera house,they confront their feelings for each other.

Ronny Cammareri: 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!

Then there’s also this great exchange:

Ronny Cammareri: You’re gonna marry my brother? Why you wanna sell your life short? Playing it safe is just about the most dangerous thing a woman like you could do. You waited for the right man the first time, why didn’t you wait for the right man again?

Loretta Castorini: He didn’t come!

Ronny Cammareri: I’m here!

Loretta Castorini: You’re late!

Moonstruck works because Loretta and Ronny are such likable,hopeless romantics. They’ve both been burned in the past in the relationship department. The two of them work believably through the ghosts of their past and come together in a way that’s sweet and gives the rest of us hope that that special someone might be out there.

As I mentioned before,Loretta and Ronny are surrounded by great characters. The best are Loretta’s parents. Olympia Dukakis,who plays her mom,is sassy and wise. She has some of the best lines in the whole movie. And her relationship with Vincent Gardenia is yet another reason to love this film. They stray from each other,but come back together in a way that isn’t corny,but instead is heartfelt. When Dukakis finds out Gardenia is cheating on her and thinks it’s because men do that to feel younger they have this exchange:

Rose: I just want you to know no matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everybody else.

Cosmo Castorini: Thank you, Rose.

I could devote a whole blog post to this screenplay alone. That’s a topic for another day. Back to Loretta and Ronny. Cher and Nicholas Cage have never been better than they are here. They go through the ups and downs of being a couple in a way the audience can relate to. Sometimes it takes people a while to realize that the person they’re destined to be with is where they least expect it. That was a big reason why When Harry Met Sally…worked also.

 

Moonstruck was directed by Norman Jewison,whose credits include Fiddler On The Roof,In the Heat of the Night,and the underrated romantic comedy Only You. Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley would go on to write and direct Joe vs. the Volcano,which is finally catching on via word of mouth. It’s hard to imagine a film with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan being underrated,but it is. Moonstruck is a delight from beginning to end. We root for Loretta and Ronny to get together because we connect with them. We can also relate to the crazy but lovable family around them. This is a classic that lives up to the hype.

That’s it for my favorite romantic couples! Join me next month when my spotlight will be on film composers.

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Favorite On-Screen Couples Week 3: Nick and Nora Charles

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Welcome to week 3 of my spotlight on favorite on-screen couples. This week I’m highlighting the screen dream team of William Powell and Myrna Loy. They made many films together,but they were at their best as sleuths Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man.

First,I’ll dispense with the plot of the film.

In New York, Dorothy Wynant (Maureen O’ Sullivan) visits her father, the inventor Clyde Wynant (Edward Ellis), with her fiancé to tell him that she is going to get married. Before traveling, her father opens the safe in his company to get some stock certificates to give as a wedding gift and realizes that his mistress Julia Wolf (Natalie Moorhead) has stolen them. When Clyde vanishes and Julia is killed, his daughter approaches the former detective Nick Charles (William Powell)  to investigate the mysterious disappearance. His wealthy wife Nora Charles (Myrna Loy) convinces the reluctant Nick to work on the case, since it would be exciting for their boring life. When two other men are killed and Clyde is accused of murder, Nick invites all the suspects to have dinner with Nora and him and resolves the case, disclosing the real criminal (source: Internet Movie Database)

The story is intriguing as a kind of comic film noir based on a novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett. But the plot is,frankly,secondary to the appeal of the movie. The real joy is watching the great chemistry of Powell and Loy. From the great one-liners,to them trying to keep up with each other in the number of drinks consumed,and their interactions with their adorable terrier sidekick Asta,the whole film is a complete delight! Pay attention to the scene where they sit down in a restaurant for drinks early on after meeting Dorothy Wynant:

Nora Charles: Pretty girl.

Nick Charles: Yes. She’s a very nice type.

Nora Charles: You got types?

Nick Charles: Only you, darling. Lanky brunettes with wicked jaws.

Few couples in the history of motion pictures threw around witty one-liners like Nick and Nora. But that’s only one reason I consider them a favorite on-screen couple.

There’s also the fact that their adventures (and often misadventures) are so much fun. A great example is the Christmas party Nick and Nora have in the film. Nora keeps trying to get Nick to take on the case of the murder of Clyde Wynant. After much witty conversation and several drinks,Nora finds Nick consoling Dorothy. In this case,a picture is worth a thousand words:

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Nick and Nora Charles quarrel like every married couple. But they do so in a way that’s believable and charming. You get the impression that they really do care about each other. At one point,Nick goes out to investigate a lead on the case,and Nora warns guard dog Asta that if anything happens to Nick, “you’ll never wag that tail again!” Their affection for each other feels so genuine. And I have to quote this other exchange because it’s one of my favorites:

Nick Charles: I’m a hero. I was shot twice in the Tribune.

Nora Charles: I read where you were shot 5 times in the tabloids.

Nick Charles: It’s not true. He didn’t come anywhere near my tabloids.

 Nick and Nora are a couple you would like to be around in real-life. They make being married look fun,a rarity in movies. And their parties…who wouldn’t want to be invited to one? It would be so much fun! Well,unless you’re the one invited to the dinner party in the first one who gets unmasked as a murderer.
Powell and Loy would go on to make several sequels to The Thin Man. But the first one still reigns supreme. Among their other films together are two of my favorite screwball comedies: I Love You Again and Love Crazy. Over 70 years later they still hold up as one of the best classic film screen teams. Nick and Nora Charles are a couple that are always a joy to watch on-screen. The actors and their characters never cease to delightful. Minus the heavy drinking,we should all aspire to be like such a couple.

Favorite On-Screen Couples Week 2: Lady and the Tramp

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For week two of my spotlight on favorite on-screen couples,I am also participating in my first blogathon. The prompt for this one was to reflect on a favorite classic film kiss. My pick is the kiss of my favorite Disney couple: Lady and the Tramp.

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While there have been many human Disney couples through the years,there’s something about the puppy love of Lady and the Tramp that makes it one of my favorite love stories. I think part of the appeal is that the dogs have human emotions but in a very believable way. Lady and Tramp do meet when Lady is learning from the neighborhood dogs what a baby is. Her owners are expecting the new arrival anytime now. Tramp offers his insights on how pets are ignored once babies arrive,much to the chagrin of dogs Jock and Trusty. Later when Lady runs afoul of babysitter Aunt Sarah thanks to the woman’s mischievous Siamese cats,she’s muzzled. She runs away and eventually meets up with a beaver and Tramp,who help her get it off.

Tramp shows her around town to cheer her up. He eventually takes her to Tony’s Restaurant. Tony serves the two dogs spaghetti and serenades them with Bella Notte. As they share their spaghetti and meatball dinner,they slurp a strand of spaghetti together as the plate runs low,eventually meeting in an unplanned lip lock. Lady turns away and looks all bashful. The It’s one of the great romantic moments in movie history,live action or animated.

Why is it such a special kiss? For me I think a lot of it has to do with the spontaneity. I didn’t expect dogs to end up at an Italian restaurant,let alone see them treated like a human couple by the owner. There’s something so simple about sharing a special dinner out with someone you love. While the love story is between two dogs,many of the things they do feel like things human couples would do. A romantic candlelight dinner is one of them. Lady’s reaction after the kiss seems so genuine that it just makes me smile every time. Having the great song like Bella Notte play over their romantic moment and seeing the romantic look in Lady’s eyes gives it even more charm. I love that Tony even serenades them with the song while playing it on accordion! All of these ingredients have solidified it as an iconic romantic movie moment.

Lady and the Tramp are one of my favorite on-screen couples not just because of their iconic kiss scene. Their relationship is a classic case of opposites attracting. Lady is a product of the middle class world of her humans. Tramp is a stray from the wrong side of the tracks. It feels like the romance in West Side Story in that regard. Their romance blossoms out of very relatable circumstances. Lady feels taken for granted when she’s pushed aside due to the arrival of the baby. Tramp comforts her by showing her she’s wanted. They go through a rough patch when Lady finds out from dog Darling about Tramp’s many girlfriends in the iconic musical number He’s a Tramp. Bonus? Darling is voiced by Peggy Lee! Finding out your lover has a checkered relationship history is another universal plot point in human romantic stories.

Towards the end when Tramp saves the baby from a rat in the bedroom,he’s taken to the pound by Aunt Sarah and Lady is locked in the basement. That’s a natural reaction when you see a tipped over baby crib and two dogs,right? Lady and the other dogs team up to save Tramp from the pound. Eventually the humans learn the error of their ways. Tramp decides to give up his bachelor life on the streets to be with Lady. Sacrificing for love is another reason this is such an engaging love story.

Lady and the Tramp are right up their with the best human couples in movie history. They transform each other in believable ways. Their relationship ups and downs ring true. There have been many great kisses in movie history,but few have left as much of an impression on me as the one that happens in Lady and the Tramp over a plate of spaghetti. It’s adorable in its simplicity and spontaneity. Motion picture history has been dominated by human romances,but the puppy love of Lady and the Tramp deserves to right up there with them.

Favorite On-Screen Couples: Harry Burns and Sally Albright

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Greetings,readers! This month,in honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ll be spotlighting my favorite on-screen film couples. I can’t think of a better way to start things off than with my favorite romantic comedy: When Harry Met Sally….
Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan),the couple in the film,first meet on a road trip. Sally gives Harry a ride to New York after they both graduate from the University of Chicago. In the car,they find out that they’re opposites. Harry is a neurotic pessimist and Sally is a neurotic,cheery hopeless romantic. After the trip ends,they part ways. Of course they don’t think they will ever cross paths again. But fate seems to have different plans. Harry and Sally continue to run into each other as they both try and fail at finding love. Through the years they become good friends. Eventually they realize they might make a good couple. This happens in the climatic scene,which ranks as one of the best in romantic comedy history.
Why are Harry and Sally one of my favorite on-screen couples? There are many reasons. For starters,their relationship feels real. They talk like real men and women do. The screenplay (which was nominated for an Oscar) was written by the late Nora Ephron. It’s peppered with great dialogue exchanges likes this:

Harry Burns: You realize of course that we could never be friends.

Sally Albright: Why not?

Harry Burns: What I’m saying is – and this is not a come-on in any way, shape or form – is that men and women can’t be friends because the sex part always gets in the way.

Sally Albright: That’s not true. I have a number of men friends and there is no sex involved.

Harry Burns: No you don’t.

Sally Albright: Yes I do.

Harry Burns: No you don’t.

Sally Albright: Yes I do.

Harry Burns: You only think you do.

Sally Albright: You say I’m having sex with these men without my knowledge?

Harry Burns: No, what I’m saying is they all WANT to have sex with you.

Sally Albright: They do not.

Harry Burns: Do too.

Sally Albright: They do not.

Harry Burns: Do too.

Sally Albright: How do you know?

Harry Burns: Because no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive. He always wants to have sex with her.

Sally Albright: So, you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?

Harry Burns: No. You pretty much want to nail ’em too.

Sally Albright: What if THEY don’t want to have sex with YOU?

Harry Burns: Doesn’t matter because the sex thing is already out there so the friendship is ultimately doomed and that is the end of the story.

Sally Albright: Well, I guess we’re not going to be friends then.

Harry Burns: I guess not.

Sally Albright: That’s too bad. You were the only person I knew in New York.

How many screenplays are that honest about men and women and how they view each other? The banter between them is totally believable. I could devote a whole blog post just to highlights from the screenplay.

 

Another reason I love Harry and Sally is the natural chemistry of the actors. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan feel like a couple you would meet in the real world. I’m willing to bet most of us know two people who start out as friends and eventually realize they want more than that. They go through the motions in the dating scene but realize eventually that their soul mate has been there all along. What’s a fun kicker in this film,is that Harry and Sally end up bringing two of their friends together who get married. They’re Marie (Carrie Fisher) and Jess (Bruno Kirby). The supporting cast in this film is treated with as much respect as the stars,another film rarity. It’s great the way their friends watch Harry and Sally struggle to eventually realize they belong together.

Thirdly,while we know it’s a romantic comedy and it will take a while for the couple to get together,no part of their relationship arc feels forced. The pacing feels like a docudrama. We really get to know them in what feels like real-time. They go through the holidays together multiple times,so we get to see them grow as people. All of this comes together in one great scene after another. Probably the most memorable scene in the movie happens early in their relationship. Harry and Sally are sitting in a diner and Sally is trying to explain to Harry that women fake orgasms. She then proceeds to do a demo while they’re eating out. The rest is movie history.

When Harry Met Sally…was directed by Rob Reiner. His comic directing chops can be seen in other comedic classics,most notably This is Spinal Tap. Reiner gives us not just real characters to root for,but a great sense of place. The film was shot on location in New York and the characters feel like they really belong there. Everything about the film clicks,including the lead actors. Meg Ryan would go on to become the queen of the modern romantic comedy,especially in her on-screen pairings with Tom Hanks (Sleepless in Seattle,You’ve Got Mail,and the vastly-underrated Joe vs. the Volcano). Harry and Sally aren’t male and female caricatures and the film tackles issues of intimacy with intelligence instead of raunchiness. It’s the kind of adult romantic comedy Hollywood could use more of. Harry and Sally are one of the best on-screen couples we’ve ever had. Generations have continued to discover When Harry Met Sally…because it struck a cord with audiences when it came out,and it will continue to do so for years to come. The characters are relatable and the story is timeless.