A Double and Dinner: Moonstruck (1987) & I Love You to Death (1990)
For the inaugural post of A Double and Dinner, I figured I’d do something different as this is a new and different step for Back Row. Instead of writing a screed, i.e. the hottest of takes, about horror or exposing our lovely readers to general repulsiveness like I usually do, I thought I’d be a bit sweeter. Start off with something that everyone can enjoy: pizza and Cher. Oh, and young Nic Cage with his stupid blue eyes and hairy chest.
In general, I am a huge fan of pairing things. Where food and drinks bring out flavors in each other when put together, double features can also bring out unexpected themes. Pairing great stuff is what we humans were put on earth to do, and what better way to continue that time-honored tradition but by bringing together food and movies. And drinks. (And probably weed at some point but let’s start with just one vice, she said, for the first time in her life.)
Making pizza, like bread, is actually so simple that I’m amazed more people aren’t constantly doing it. Giving dough time to rise can be a bit of a test in patience but the beauty of this is that you can watch movies while you’re waiting. Good movies. Movies that feature pizza if one was so inclined. Or even just dramatic Italian nonsense about family and love and all that kinda shit.
So what to watch? What pairs well with pizza and a drink I’m dedicating to Nic Cage’s blue eyes? Look, if you haven’t figured out I’m about to say Moonstruck then there’s just no hope for you.
Moonstruck (1987) is one of the few movies centered around love and Italians that I can stomach. For starters, it’s beautifully written and perfectly acted. Secondly, it makes a pretty good case for the fact that romantic love is stupid and tolerated in this world only because we all fall victim to it at some point. Moonstruck is about a multigenerational Italian family living in Brooklyn where everyone is falling in love, out of love, or straight up cheating. Cher plays Loretta, a woman engaged to a loveable but dumpy Johnny (Danny Aiello). When he says they can only get married if his brother Ronny (young Nic Cage) attends the wedding, Loretta sets out to fix the rift between them.
Naturally, she winds up in bed with Ronny–and if you don’t think it could happen to you, watch this movie. He’s a doll baby and to quote Jenna Ipcar: “His body in that movie? A+++++.” So, yeah, you’d do it too.
What sets Moonstruck apart from the other millions of mindless rom-coms is it’s a movie that’s romantic and a comedy but not a romantic comedy. The characters don’t act the way they do in most movies, where the main goal is to get two good-looking people to have sex. They’re antagonistic, and often realistic. There’s a subtext of nihilism coming from the mother played by Olympia Dukakis about how marriage is, at best, a contract, and that passion is unimportant in the long run.
Moonstruck isn’t exactly a subversive movie, but it has moments that thumb their nose at expectations–especially when taken in the context of similar movies. Like most rom-coms, this also has a makeover montage, but it happens after Loretta’s already landed (ya’ know, slept with) the boy. The man that Loretta leaves for his hot-blooded brother is not some cad who doesn’t deserve her, but kind-hearted and safe, if a bit dull. The conversations Loretta has with her cheated-on and cynical mother are close to the bone and hold notes of reality. You can hear the soundbite memories of sentiments a sad, old Italian woman once said to the screenwriter.
Of course, some things go completely according to formula. By the final scene, the pair that we all want to end up together are admitting their love. I suppose there could be a strong contingency of Team Danny Aiello fans but I’ve never met them. We don’t spend a lot of time feeling sad about the unfortunate storylines, and instead toast to family and rewind to all those scenes of Nic Cage in a ginny-t.
So Moonstruck’s got romance and New York but no pizza. For pizza, we turn to I Love You To Death (1990), a comedy starring Kevin Kline and Tracy Ullman–the two least Italian people I can think of. Ehhh, maybe Tilda Swinton.
Joey Boca (Kline) and Rosalie (Ullman) are a married couple that run a pizza place together in Washington state. When Rosalie finds out that Joey is sleeping around, her mother convinces her to kill him by poisoning his food. First she tries an overdose of sleeping pills, but it doesn’t seem to work. In one of the movie’s funniest scenes, Rosalie and her mother ponder why he’s even still awake while Joey waves board games in the background, tempting them to play by calling out, “hey ladies, Moooonooopoly.”
Rosalie hires two stoned hitmen played by a very young Keanu Reeves and a very longhaired William Hurt. They shoot Joey but also completely bungle it, as stoned hitmen are wont to do. The police find Joey, now drugged, shot, and left for dead, so they take him to the emergency room. After he’s recovered, Joey tells Rosalie that the reason he didn’t bleed to death is because the sleeping pills slowed his heart down. They bicker, call each other names they apparently don’t mean, then have sex in a broom closet.
Looking through some old reviews, I see this movie was not really well-loved. I’m here to tell you it’s funny. Kline and Ullman work perfectly together, Reeves and Hurt steal every scene they’re in, and it’s just sick enough to be a dark comedy about how temporary and stifling love can be. It also features pizza so it’s getting points for fitting the theme.
Now for dinner: I know I’m not about to win a lot of friends with some of the ingredients in this recipe but the few I do will be loyal, true friends. Who like anchovies.
MoonPies Pizza... What a Time to be Alive
2 ¼ tsps yeast
1 Cup Warm Water
1 TBL Sugar
3 Cups Flour
Pinch of Salt
Sauce (homemade if you can do it)
Get your pizza dough starter started when you put Moonstruck on. Mix warm water with yeast and sugar. Let sit until a foam rises on top, usually takes about fifteen minutes or so.
Mix flour and salt together. Make a hollow in the middle of the bowl and pour the yeast mixture it and mix until blended. Cover in olive oil and let sit to rise.
Once the dough has doubled in size, preheat the oven to 450°F and prepare your pizzas. If you’re new to tossing dough, make the pizzas small so they’re easier to work with. Tossing the pizza keeps the air bubbles from being worked out and helps it retain moisture so while you can definitely roll or knead a pizza into proper shape, you may lose some of the springiness in the crust. Divide the dough into quarters or smaller, shape each portion into a ball, and then start tossing. This is how I learned to toss pizza dough. Good ol’ Youtube.
Oil a pan or sheet depending on the size of your pizzas. If you’d like, you can coat the oiled panned with cornmeal. Put the dough into the pan, cover with sauce, cheese, and toppings. Brush crust with olive oil. Bake for 15 minutes or until cheese and crust are the right color for you. I leave mine in a little longer because I want both browned.
If you’re worried about having a thick or soggy crust, you can do what essentially amounts to a blind bake: put the crust in the oven without any toppings for about five to ten minutes. Keep an eye on it so it doesn’t puff up. Take it out, flip it over, and put on the rest of the ingredients. This can sometimes make the pizza look a bit warped but it’s a good trick for a well-done crust if you haven’t got a pizza stone.
Your pizzas should be done around the time Moonstruck is wrapping up so you can have the meal with the comedy. The cocktail should start as soon as cooking does:
The Blue-Eyed Blue Angel (Angelo Azzurro)
2 oz gin
.5 oz triple sec
1 oz blue curacao (Wanna make your own? Ask me how!)
Mix all ingredients together in a shaker with ice. Shake until cold then strain into a glass, preferably a fancy one but tradition says highball. Drink every time Nic Cage’s dumb face and heartfelt outbursts make you believe in love.