by Jennifer Howell
When it comes to movies first viewed in childhood it can be hard to say whether we identified with a particular film or if that film helped to forge our identity. Such is the case with me and “Moonstruck”, released in 1987 when I was 10 years old.
Though there are many types of love displayed in “Moonstruck”: from the platonic to the romantic, from the long married to the drink-in-the-face breakup, it was the passionate love at the center of the film, between Loretta and Ronny, that I aspired to.
Theirs is the operatic love, the love at first sight, the gut level knowing. It ignores convention in favor of undeniable connection. It literally turns the tables and sweeps Loretta off her feet. And in the words of Ronny, it “don’t make things nice.”
Ronny and Loretta don’t meet cute; they meet hot - literally - near the flaming maw of a bakery oven. Ronny’s introductory dialogue is a howl of angst, pain, and anger, aimed mainly at his brother, Johnny, Loretta’s fiancée. His bakery colleagues shrink before his outpourings. Loretta, however, does not wilt, but rather does the sensible thing and feeds this “wolf” a bloody steak.
Ronny, recognizing a true mate, kisses Loretta with a passion rarely matched on film. Surprising herself, Loretta kisses him back. And then Ronny “takes her to the bed”, where they wake hours later bathed in the light of a huge moon as fantastic and improbable as their sudden romance.
Loretta spends much of the rest of the movie fighting her instincts. She agrees to go to the opera with Ronny if he’ll agree to never see her again afterwards. She still intends to marry Johnny, the brother she doesn’t love. But the opera and its language of pure emotion only draws them closer, leading them to huddle in the cold outside Ronny’s front door where he pleads his case in some of the most iconic romantic dialogue ever written:
“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.”
It would only be at the tail end of my adolescence that I’d come face to face with the unpredictable nature of mortality through my mother’s sudden death. But I realized much earlier that love and passion were not to be avoided or frozen out, out of a sense of fear. I learned young that the real fear was in never trying.
So, true to my tutelage, I have never been afraid to make a mess in love. I’ve followed my heart, broken hearts, had my heart broken, married young and divorced young, married again, engaged in alternative relationship styles, and carried torches for unrequited love interests long after a saner person would have realized their hand was getting burnt.
Perhaps this philosophy of putting it all out there and making a mess doesn’t work so well for everyone. But for me it has led to a marriage with a true soulmate and a romantic life with very few regrets.
“Moonstruck” and other similar movies about sweeping, passionate love affairs (“Out of Africa”, “A Room With a View”, “Romancing the Stone”, etc.) taught me early on that settling wasn’t an option for me. It taught me to believe that passion exists, that there’s a kind of tragedy in ignoring it, and that even when it doesn’t work out in the end, the journey of love, even the mess, is beautiful and worthwhile on its own.
“Moonstruck” taught me to shoot for the moon, and I have indeed ended up among the stars.