There's nothing more beloved in American cinema than a Nicolas Cage freakout. We have such gems as his "not the bees" moment in The Wicker Man ...
... his filing freak out from Vampire's Kiss ...
... and, of course, his impression of 2020:
It's easy to believe that Nic Cage arrived a fully-formed lunatic, that even in the womb he was delivering overwrought monologues about the umbilical cord. "What is this weird rope in my gut? Get it out of me! Get it OUUUUTTTTTTT!!!!!" But cultivating such madness takes time, and if we look to one of his earliest leading roles, that of Ronny Cammareri in the 1987 film Moonstruck, we're bound to see the subtle markers of what will one day become ... wait, a minute.
Nevermind. It looks like Nic Cage has been running on 180cc's of unleaded crazy from the very beginning. I mean, it's his first scene in the film, and already he's calling for the big knife and threatening suicide. It's his classic out-of-nowhere tonal shift for what had been, until that point, an extremely grounded film about a widower dealing with awakening feelings for her new fiance's brother. He's also using his patented Nic Cage delivery, which is Eric Cartman doing an impression of Nic Cage. Everything's there and, while this one scene alone might not hit as high on the nuts-o-meter quite like Cage shouting the ABC's in Vampire's Kiss, trust me, Moonstruck has plenty more where that came from. Take just the rest of this scene:
What a chef's kiss of a reveal. He lost his hand! You get the impression that this is being played for sympathy, and, in a normal movie with a normal actor, you might very well feel sympathetic. But, because Nic Cage has already blasted through the melodrama stratosphere 10 billion miles ago, it just reads like a random improv character dropped in on a Lifetime movie. The camera even cuts to all the bakery workers with the same "WTF" expressions that they must have had on the first day of filming. Here's one more vintage moment in a movie full of them:
I think the most telling point in this scene is that when Cher tells us her husband died by getting hit by a bus of all things, we don't even flinch because Cage has already taken us to such unprecedented levels of randomness. His motivations are so guarded, his actions so nonsensical, that when he throws that table aside and lifts Cher up to his face, we're genuinely unsure whether Cage will kiss her or throw her into a suplex.
That's not to say Moonstruck is a bad movie. It's a fantastic, Academy Award-winning movie, and Nic Cage's Cage-iness is probably all by design. Moonstruck is supposed to be about how, when the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, you go crazy and start dating guys who throw tables and howl into the wind after a date at the opera.
But more than all of that, it's a testament to Nic Cage, and how even before he found enough mainstream success to be a weirdo in whatever damn movie he pleased, he was doing it his way from the very start.
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Top Image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer