From the family gatherings in the kitchen to the kooky nicknames and Drama Queen reactions to just about everything, “Moonstruck” hits the Italian-American personality out of the park. On the 30th anniversary of the film that brought Cher, Olympia Dukakis and screenwriter John Patrick Shanley Academy Awards and producer/director Norman Jewison nominations, I – a full-blooded Italian from both sides of the family – take a look at the Italian-inspired details that make it a classic.
Dean Martin • “Moonstruck” opens with the quintessential Italian song (“That’s Amore”) sung by the quintessential Italian crooner (Dean Martin). Any song that pays tribute to pasta fazool and falling in love, AND has the lyrics “tippy-tippy-tay” is OK by me.
Everyone has a nickname • Suffice it to say, I can pretty much guarantee that the restaurant maitre d wasn’t born with the name “Bobo.” But it’s typical for Italian families to have nicknames for their kin. In my family, we have Miggy, Measles, Puco, Dillinger, Ferly, Dee Dee and Patty, whose real name was Mary (and Patricia isn’t even her middle name). And the list goes on.
Superstitious • Loretta was reluctant to lost her heart to someone because she thought she had back luck; Johnny feared his mother would die if he got married; and let’s not forget that old woman at the airport who “put a curse on that plane to explode.” Then again, there’s a darn good chance that an Italian on that plane was saying a rosary to prevent that from happening.
Overly dramatic • From Ronnie screaming, “Bring me the big knife, I’m gonna cut my throat!” to Cosmo saying he can’t sleep anymore because “it’s too much like death,” to the Vikki Carr classic Italian song “It Must Be Him” in which she sings, “Oh dear God, it must be him or I shall die” when the phone rings. Time to switch to decaf.
Serious talks happen in the kitchen • You have a problem? Let’s sit down and talk… in the kitchen. It’s the hub for all conversations in an Italian family. Maybe because it’s neutral territory, it’s usually brightly lit and filled with good memories and smells, or maybe it’s because it’s just closer to the food, which all Italians love. Whatever the case, all problems that enter the kitchen seem to disappear before exiting it. Sort of the way diet aspirations do.
Sugar cube in the champagne • Why make an already sweet potent potable even sweeter? It’s an old Italian wives tale that the devil never wants to see you happy, and since champagne “makes you happy,” dropping a sugar cube in keeps the devil away. Seriously, I’m not making that up.
Talking with hands • Tie our hands to our sides and all you’d hear us say is “uh… um… er… huh.” If the hands aren’t moving, neither are the vocal cords.
A little cynical • When Rose asks Loretta if she loves Johnny and Loretta says no, the wise mama says, “Good. When you love them they drive you crazy because they know they can.” Italians may be romantic, but they’re also rather suspicious of anything that seems too good to be true.
You don’t want to make them mad • For the most part, Italian-Americans are lovable and would give you the shirt off their back. On the other hand, they’ve got memories like elephants and you do not want to mess with them. Case in point: when Rose’s father-in-law feeds his dogs table scraps, she tells him, “Old man, you give those dogs another piece of my food and I’m gonna kick you ’til you’re dead!” Message received.
Egg in a hole • Aka “egg in the basket,” “egg with a hat,” “one-eyed Jack,” “toad in the hole” and “uova fritte nel pane,” this dish of a slice of bread with an egg in its cut-out center and topped with roasted peppers is a breakfast favorite in Italian homes. Why? Heck if I know. But it sure was in my house growing up.
Romance never dies • A single red rose melts Loretta’s pragmatic shroud, Cosmos’ old-as-Moses papa finds wonder in “la bella luna,” and Rita and Raymond get a little frisky late into the night. (That last one gave me the giggles ’cause, dang, they’re cute.) Ain’t love grand?
Opera • If you were raised in an Italian-America house, chances are you were exposed to your share of opera. For many of those that were, it is an artform that reaches into your soul and tugs at your heart. For others, it’s just music that’s impossible to sing along to .
The pinch • If you’ve never gotten an Italian pinch, consider yourself lucky because it leaves a nasty mark. It is the grabbing of a small amount of skin and simultaneously pulling and twisting. It is silent but oh-so deadly.
Emotions are big • Love. It happens quickly, intensely and there’s no turning back. That’s the Italian way.
Family is everything • There’s yelling and arguments, tears are shed, misunderstandings happen, but at day’s end, they always say “ti amo” (I love you). As the Castorini family put it, “alla famiglia”… to the family!
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