Sunday, September 7, 2014

love don't make things nice

From 12 years to a couple days, love, especially on film, can sneak up on you. It can also leave just as unexpectedly. Loretta Castorini Clark (Cher) waited for love before she married the first time and her husband was killed by a bus. Ronny Cammareri was engaged to be married then he lost his hand and his fiancé left him.

In Moonstruck, Ronny is clearly the more damaged of that pair, prone to emotional outburst and threats (demanding the big knife to cut his own throat) and acts (knocking over his kitchen table) of violence. Loretta is more sedate. And, early in the film, when her florist client—she does a few small businesses’ accounting—gives her a rose, the film lingers on her and that rose. It’s a beatific shot, a romantic shot. However much it must have hurt to lose her husband, Loretta is still a romantic. Later, after she has gone shopping and has gotten her hair done for a night at the opera, there’s a scene that adds little to the plot but demonstrates again that Loretta is a romantic. She takes some time opening her new purchases, admiring the shoes, putting on the lipstick, and ultimately getting to the dress. And she looks at herself in the mirror as she does at least part of this. She may be seeing herself for the first time since her husband’s death. There’s a thread on IMDb that begins with someone asking what the point of this scene is, but I think the point is rather obvious—Loretta has found love. It’s simplistic, it’s cinematic, it’s unrealistic, but it works.

And it works for one very basic reason. We all—and I hate to generalize, especially after some arguments I made to the contrary quite recently, but it is the easiest way to phrase this… We all want romance. We all want love like it exists in the movies. We want powerful emotions to take us over and break us out of the doldrums of our daily lives…

Well, it doesn’t have to be romantic love, I suppose. We just want something interesting to happen to us. Why else do we see most movies? The stuff happening on screen is more interesting than what we might be experiencing if we weren’t there in the darkened theater, or the living room or the den or wherever you might sit down with your tablet and watch Netflix. The problem is that, just like taking that break from real life to watch a movie, the interesting stuff ends. Real people don’t often fall in love in 2 days like Loretta and Ronny. Nor do they probably take as long as Harry Burns and Sally Albright. But, there are unique events, touchstones on the path to a romantic relationship—or in Hollywood, toward marriage (even Ronny proposes marriage in the end). You can pinpoint the moment you knew. It’s a thing. Like those old couples appearing throughout When Harry Met Sally…, or Cosmo Castorini as his brother-in-law describes him, young and in love:

I never seen anybody so in love like Cosmo back then! He'd stand outside the house all day and look in the windows. I never told you this cause it's not really a story. But one time I woke up in the middle of the night cause this bright light was in my face. Like a flashlight. I couldn't think a what it was. I looked out the window, and it was the moon! Big as a house! I never seen the moon so big before or since. I was almost scared, like it was gonna crush the house. And I looked down, and standing there in the street was Cosmo, looking up at the windows. This is the funny part. I got mad at you, Cosmo! I thought you brought this big moon over to my house cause you were so in love and woke me up with it. I was half asleep I guess and didn't know no better.

Singular moments that define the future. They seem like something more out of the movies, but they exist. For a personal example, there’s the day I and a girl bonded over recently deceased pets. There’s the day I posted a link to my website to my future wife and she “devoured” the writing there. The future is not set in stone, it isn’t permanent, but it also really doesn’t come out of nowhere. Little, singular moments build up to it.

Think about it like this. In the movies, romance takes an hour and half to two hours. Sure, within the universe of the story, Moonstruck takes a couple days, When Harry Met Sally… takes nearly 13 years and Groundhog Day takes… however long it takes, but for we in the audience that’s just details. The story takes an hour and half to two hours. Really, given those three examples, it takes an hour and a half to an hour and forty minutes. And, we still embrace it. Even when it is blatantly unrealistic.

Weirdly, since I should be dealing more in an overview of the film since this is its Day 1, I must say that Moonstruck waivers between being quite cynical about love and quite insanely optimistic about it. It plays like a movie that wants us to embrace passion, the kind of passion that makes you want to throw a table out of the way, grab the girl in front of you and carry her to your bed, while understanding that passion is fleeting, love is… well, more patient. Moonstruck includes a scene and music from La Boheme, an opera about love in the face of mortality. And, even without much overt explanation for that inclusion, it works. But, really, isn’t every romantic story just about love in the face of mortality. As Rose Castorini (Olympia Dukakis) tells her husband, “No matter what you do, you’re gonna die, just like everybody else.” She’s got a theory that men chase women because they fear death. Maybe we all chase each other because when you stop chasing, you stop moving, and when you stop moving you die. Maybe she’s got a point.

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