I hope you enjoyed the first episode of Mambo Non-Italiano. I left you with the cliffhanger, the question of whether Cher gets an Italian pass for her role in Moonstruck. Moonstruck is a great Italian movie but did she do all that is necessary for the Don to give her a pass?

So, what can I say about Cher in her role as Loretta Castorini in the 1987 blockbuster Moonstruck? This film about the importance of the Italian family was nominated for eight Academy Awards, with Cher and Olympia Dukakis winning for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively. So, the two non-Italians playing Italians each won but the Italians got ugots.

Now Moonstruck is by far the best movie about the Italian family where no one gets whacked. The cast has a number of real Italians which lend authenticity to the family. The extended Castorini clan live in a million-dollar Brooklyn brownstone. Cher’s character Loretta is going to marry Danny Aiello (Great real Italian) but ends up falling in love with his brother played by Nicholas Cage (Sometimes a great real Italian, depending on the movie). The movie has hauntingly beautiful Italian opera, Dean Martin singing the opening song, lots of Italian being spoken, an Italian grocery store and even Uncle Bobo (played by Robert Weil, not Italian) serving minestrone at the Grand Ticino Ristorante. Moonstruck lives and breathes New York Italian. It all adds up to make it one of my favorite movies of all time.

Let’s look at the entire cast of Moonstruck before we make our decision on giving Cher a pass.

Nicholas Cage owns Cammareri Brother’s Bakery, a fitting occupation for a real Italian. He loses points for changing his good Italian name Coppola to Cage but I can see he may have wanted to distance himself from his very famous cousin and be his own man. He loves opera as did my father. He holds a grudge like every good Italian that I know.

Vincent Gardenia is perfect as the family patriarch, Cosmo Castorini. He looks very Italian and not just because my father could have passed as his cousin. His mannerisms and inflections seem natural, whereas Cher is walking the line of overacting, in my humble opinion.

Danny Aiello, real Italian, played the hapless Johnny Cammareri. Somehow, he convinced Cher’s character that they should get married. It was the definition of settling on Cher’s part. He can’t seem to do anything right and ends up choosing his mother over his fiancée.

Louis Guss plays Uncle Raymond. He owns and Italian grocery store, the kind that makes me think of the heavenly store Lombardi’s in Syracuse, New York. If you are in Syracuse, you have to stop by Lombardi’s just for the smell. Disclaimer: practice hitting the ground at the sound of gunfire before you visit, the old neighborhood isn’t the old neighborhood anymore.

I looked Louis up to see if he was a real Italian, but it appears he was not, Guss was his given name. But he does add an important element that is a big plus for any movie about Italians, he was in The Godfather. His role wasn’t particularly likeable, but he was the head of a family and that gives him Molto Rispetto.

Feodor Chaliapin Jr., a Russian, plays the grandfather. Most of his lines are in Italian, especially “Che bella luna”. He’s old and “the old are not wanted” so I’ll give him a discounted senior citizen pass.

Olympia Dukakis gets a conditional pass because she is Greek, and the Greeks did settle the part of Southern Italy where my family came from. But more importantly she gets a pass for making the “Eggs-in-a-hole”, eggs and roasted red peppers in Italian bread. I add a little parmesan cheese myself. Delicious.

In the end they are one big happy family, and they toast to the family. Alla familia! I love the closing scene with the family pictures from the old country because I have one of my grandfather Felice Cosentino who arrived on Ellis Island on April 13, 1903. I was lucky to have the unforgettable honor of being on Ellis Island on April 13, 2003, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his arrival.

Moonstruck is a classic, but is it enough to give Cher, real name Cherilyn Sarkisian, born in California, an Italian pass? To me she doesn’t really look Italian. She has a dark complexion and “ethnic” features, which unfortunately adds up to being able to play an Italian most of the time.

I don’t find Cher particularly attractive either, but my standard for female Italian beauty was set at an early age with all of the gorgeous Italian cheerleaders at my Catholic High School. She wouldn’t have made the squad. If I had believed she was a beautiful Italian woman, I would issue a pass immediately.

I thought she overdid the Italian female stereotype by using too many hand gestures and yelling almost every line. It just didn’t work even though it worked for the Motion Picture Academy, probably not a lot of Italians in that group.

So, the big question, does Cher get a pass?

I have to conclude that even though Moonstruck is one of the best movies about Italians, she just doesn’t get a pass. I’ve thought this over and over and I just can’t bring myself to say she is Italian to me. You can change my mind, but I am standing firm.

In the next episode of Mambo Non-Italiano we’ll discuss the movie Donnie Brasco with two of the lead actors, Johnny Depp and Michael Madsen, not Italian.

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