Loretta Castorini (Cher)is a woman in her late thirties, a widow, who lives with her parents in a duplex apartment in Brooklyn. She is engaged to marry Johnny Cammareri (Danny Aiello), a bland man, more out of a resigned duty than actual love. Before their wedding Johnny takes a trip out to visit his mother who is sick and leaves Loretta the function of playing the olive leaf with his brother Ronny by notifying him of their impending wedding. Ronny (Nicholas Cage) hasn't forgiven Johnny for being the cause of his accident which caused him the loss of his hand (and subsequently, his then-bride-to-be), but he does fall for Loretta, and hard. After a heated affair Loretta out of respect for Johnny tries to avoid Ronny, but his dark looks and overpowering masculinity win her over. Meanwhile, Loretta's mother Rose Castorini (Olympia Dukakis) is not only suspecting her husband Cosmo (Vincent Gardenia) is seeing another woman, but is also herself the subject of admiration from a college professor and wonders why do men chase women. Things get complicated when Johnny returns from Sicily to tell Loretta they can't be married.
The setup is pure sitcom, but the story, written by John Patrick Shanley with a deep understanding for Italian-Americans living in New York, is genuine: he gets the idiosyncrasies of these people and their day-to-day foibles and quirks, and all of the characters have a deep romanticism that comes through in key moments throughout the story. Loretta, a character hardened by the loss of her husband and knowing her chances of happiness are slim, slowly emerges as a woman who is so swept by the sudden recognition of love she becomes the heroine of La Boheme -- the one who acknowledges the love of the man with the wooden hand (in a clever gender reversal), and Cher inhabits the role and makes it hers and in her own style subtly trades her frumpiness to a deep, dark beauty. Ronny is pure fire and Nicholas Cage exudes masculine power as if he were channeling Marlon Brando. The Castorini's and the Cappomaggi's, counterbalancing the central couple, both express their love for each other in two very crucial moments: the latter couple, on the night of the full moon when Loretta and Ronny consummate their affair -- a rare scene depicting love and intimacy among the elderly --, and the former at a tense moment over breakfast when Rose bluntly reveals, in touching words, that she wants Cosmo to stop seeing his mistress Mona (Anita Gillette).
MOONSTRUCK is not only the romantic comedy and date movie of choice, but also a beautiful examination of love and passion among regular people. The ending is a tour de force of emotional impact, the family situation going beyond the momentary complications to cement it in tradition going back to the days of immigrants, and is one that elevates this movie from being just another feel-good movie to a classic. MOONSTRUCK deservedly got its Oscars for Best Writing, Actress, and Supporting Actress, and has proved to grow beyond its time.