Fine, not all of three of these gals are the leads – you got me. But you can leave that negativity at the front door and read on anyway, because I assure all three women are worth watching.
Loretta Castorini – Moonstruck (1987)
Cher is an icon. So you’d think it would be impossible for her to play a role where you don’t first and foremost see her as, well, Cher, right?
Enter her Oscar-winning performance as Loretta Castorini. We’ll skip past the fact that this is also one of Nic Cage’s best performances (and best lines – “A BRIDE WITHOUT A HEAD” comes to mind, but “and I bake bread, bread, BREAD” stands out too) and focus instead on Cher. Moonstruck, one of the best romantic comedies knocking around the genre, starts off with 37-year-old widow Loretta’s engagement to raging milksop Johnny Cammareri, but the action really starts when Loretta takes it upon herself to invite Johnny’s one-handed younger brother Ronny (Cage) to the wedding.
Loretta landed on this list because she works with whatever comes her direction with a woman’s particularly unquestioning efficiency. What’s happened to her has happened to her and she’s making the best of it. This skews her priorities a little from the get go, with a staunch superstition that all be done to a traiditonal T to avoid the bad luck she’s experienced through most of her life, but as in all good stories, that flaw turns out to be the driving force and undoing of the plot. Loretta is sweet but uncompromising, leaning heavily into her family and relatably struggling with a divided loyalty between her straying, mid-life-crisis father Cosmo and her supportive, sarcastic mother (played in another epic casting turn by Olympia Dukakis).
Mostly I am endlessly envious of Loretta’s PEAK 80’s makeover before her hot date at the Met, but having the strength of character to plant both feet on the ground, resist any ounce of self-pity, and a perfectly-timed, life-changing, post-opera decision to side with romance over reason are other strong contenders for why I wish I could be Loretta Castorini.
Other Reasons to Just love Moonstruck Anyway:
The entire film is quotable (“Old man, you give those dogs another plate of my food and I’m gonna kick you ’til you’re DEAD”; “Birds fly to the stars, I guess.”), its Italian-American/Brooklyn aesthetic cannot be overvalued, the entire adorable date between Olympia Dukakis and Fraiser Crane’s dad.
Kate – French Kiss (1995)
It could be argued that Meg Ryan single-handedly kept the chick flick alive straight from When Harry Met Sally on through You’ve Got Mail. Sure, she clearly got dead tired of it (see Proof of Life, In the Cut, and Against the Ropes for reference), but even that neck-cricking 180 can’t diminish the strength of her prior performances. And I’m here to tell you that, You’ve Got Mail fan girl I am, her turn as Kate in French Kiss is the best of the bunch.
French Kiss flew a bit under the radar, most likely due to the fact that Ryan wasn’t starring opposite Tom Hanks, but her Kate to Kevin Kline’s Luc is a snappy, sarcastic example of great chemistry. Kate, eyes scrunched, uttering the line “All men are bastards!” and, moments later, “Of course you know him! All you bastards know each other!” remains one of my favorites.
But more than her connection with Luc, I love Kate because of her transition from relationship-reliant to strong solo female. Sure, she ends up with Luc in the end (on their own vineyard in Bordeaux, no less), but not before she decided she was perfectly happy ditching the fiance that had already ditched her when he comes back, tail-between-his-hella-90’s-dressed legs, and flying home on her own.
Kate also spends a lot of the movie associating her geographic home with her identity as well. In the process of gaining Canadian citizenship, she considers herself no longer an American, and when an embassy worker denies her that treasured maple leaf flag, she later declares herself “currently without country”, somewhere between proud and self-satisfied at how much it no longer matters. If you’re struggling with getting outside of your comfort zone or with re-defining what defines you, a girl can do far worse than using the strangely-rootless Kate as a role model.
Other Reasons to Just Love French Kiss Anyway:
Bizarrely excellent 90’s French soundtrack (featuring Kevin Kline singing La Mer), specifically mid-90’s French fashion/aesthetic, Jean Reno, the entire exchange between Kate and the concierge at the George V.
Patti – Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
I know, I know – Diane Lane’s Frances is supposed to be the protagonist of Under the Tuscan Sun. But after watching this chick-flick staple hundreds of times over the years, I’m here to tell you the truth: Frances’ pregnant, jilted, lesbian best friend, played impeccably by Sandra Oh, is this film’s true hero.
It’s easy to get confused about this, as Diane Lane did get top billing, and Patti fulfills many best friend/side kick tropes. She bestows Oprah-like advice about the crossroads of Frances post-divorce life, she provides emotional support when Frances doesn’t exactly cope, and she delivers zingy-one-liners about Frances’ shitty ex and her comical new situation in Tuscany. But what Patti does even better than this, and does better than Frances, is rise from the ashes of an absolutely shitty set of real-life circumstances when her long-term partner leaves her when she’s seven months pregnant with the baby they’ve been trying to have together for years.
Talk about an excuse to quit life. I can’t imagine something scarier than facing parenthood on your own when every expectation is that it’s the last thing you’ll have to do. But Patti eats her words about how probably not great an idea it was for Frances to have bought a villa in Tuscany and instead, in her own moment of cheesy Oprah crossroads, ditches San Francisco to join her bestie there. Yeah, it’s peak Hollywood privilege to have that kind of fallback plan, but it’s still pretty brave for Patti to even in those circumstances power through and have and keep the kid she’d been planning on raising with her ex. If I can handle even one life crisis with the humor and humility Patti does, I’ll consider myself a success.
Other Reasons to Just Love Under the Tuscan Sun Anyway:
That goddamn Tuscan scenery (plus two Positano cameos), “D’you want to come over?” “…maybe later?” FACEPALM, Patti swoop-dancing with the baby amongst the trees, “Okay, yes” and the entire Polish construction crew, everything utterly ridiculous Katherine (the inimitable Lindsay Duncan) does.