Off the Books vs. Moonstruck: Best Accounting Movies
Off the Books Producer Mike Gravagno is back to debate with Steve and Catherine about whether Moonstruck is the best accounting movie ever made. Or the best romcom. Or Cher’s best role. Want to weigh in on what the crew got right and wrong? Drop a comment on YouTube.
Season 4, Episode 2: OTB vs. Moonstruck: Best Accounting Movies | Transcript
Mike Gravagno: Hello and welcome to Off the Books where we surf the uncharted waters of accounting, finance, risk, and wherever else the waves take us. This episode is brought to you by Workiva, the ESG, risk, reporting, and compliance platform that simplifies your complex work and helps you learn the difference between pasta fagioli and minestrone. Check it out at workiva.com/podcast. My name is Mike Gravagno, and I'm the Off the Books producer, recovering Cherry Coke addict, and today's host. You know what that means? It's a movie episode! I'm looking forward to debiting a great conversation, and I'm very glad to have you hanging ten with us. With me as always, Catherine Tsai and Steve Soter. Our tenth seed today: Moonstruck.
Catherine Tsai: Tenth season seed, wow.
Mike: Yes, which only means anything if you've been with us from the beginning and know that we had a big bracket whittled down to the movies we'd watch, and Moonstruck was the tenth seed.
Steve Soter: I would say that's a great callout to our listeners that if you have not heard that episode that's in season three—we are now the season four—go check it out. I actually think it was very entertaining. It certainly was to be talking about it.
Mike: Before recording this episode, what was your relationship to Moonstruck? Catherine, we'll start with you.
Catherine: I had heard of it. That's about all I knew.
Steve: And similarly, I had heard of it. So I grew up in the '80s. I was a kid when it came out, and when I think of this movie and actually see the moon on the cover, I can still remember what that looks like. And that's like, "Oh, that's a movie adults watch." Because I as a kid would not be watching that movie. I remember having that distinct thought.
Mike: As a kid, were you bored by the moon or were you scared by it?
Steve: No, I actually liked the moon. It just appeared to me to be an adult movie that was not, I don't know, He-Man or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or G.I. Joe, whatever I was watching at the time.
Mike: I think that's true. It is not like He-Man or TMNT at all. But yeah iconic poster.
Steve: That's the understatement of the year.
Mike: You would rather be watching He-Man, I assume?
Steve: Yeah, we'll get to that shortly. Yes.
Mike: We will get to that shortly. Let's stop hemming and hawing around. We're going to take a quick break and jump in to Moonstruck.
Released in 1987, directed by Norman Jewison, and written by John Patrick Shanley, Moonstruck is a rom-com following Cher's Loretta Castorini, a widowed Italian-American accountant who lives with her parents, grandfather, and grandfather's five dogs. She falls in love with her fiancee's estranged brother, played by Nicolas Cage. There might be moon magic involved. There's definitely pasta involved. And Moonstruck was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Screenplay. Bookies, I ask you this, how different would Moonstruck be if Cher wasn't her neighborhood accountant?
Catherine: Oh, intriguing. You mean like a different actress was playing that character.
Steve: Or she had a different profession?
Catherine: Oh, okay.
Mike: I'm meant different profession. We always kick off here with, does this count as an accounting movie?
Steve: No. In fact, the accounting is completely ancillary to the story, with the exception of the something that happens toward the end. I feel like the movie is old enough—spoiler alerts don't matter. She forgets to make a deposit. So not only did she not need to be an accountant, but she wasn't a particularly good one anyway because she's got a wad of cash in her coat that she completely forgets about. I mean, that things like a brick of cash. So now I would argue that the accounting has nothing to do with the story, and actually I feel deceived. I would love to know what movie this went up against and allowed that other movie a chance to hop back in. I realize that's probably against the rules, but I felt deceived: little to no accounting in this movie.
Mike: Well, that's part of this whole process. And part of the bracket is we go in just based on reputations and descriptions of movies. As a movie, Moonstruck has a great reputation as it won a bunch of awards, nominated for even more, and accounting was a big part of the description. And so sometimes that means it has to do with the movie a lot. And sometimes it's like this. If that plotline was woven throughout the money, then I think it would matter more. You know what I thought is when they came back at the end and I'd forgotten, but they're like, "Where's the money?" I thought she went on a shopping spree with their money. I thought she was so like "I gotta look good for Nicky Cage" that she blew their money.
Steve: I thought that exact same thing. Catherine, did you do you have that same reaction?
Catherine: I didn't pick up on it, and I probably should have. I'm with you. I don't know that it's much of an accounting movie at all.
Steve: It's not. It's totally not.
Mike: Okay, so should we just move on? Normally we dig into how it could be and how it isn't, but it isn't. She is her neighborhood accountant, and then that goes away instantly.
Steve: Here's what I will say. And for those who listen to that original bracket episode that we did, I talked a lot about the typical accounting stereotypes: short, unathletic, not good looking, very quirky. And, you know, I'm thinking about what's his name from Ghostbusters. Tully. What was his name?
Mike: Louis Tully.
Steve: Yeah, Louis Tully. Thank you. I do think that part of the shtick of this movie is people living very particular lives and kind of doing their own thing. And as you describe that, for somebody to be in accounting, that gives you a sense of what they're like and their personality and whatever. And I think maybe that was part of the appeal, is that if you were to describe Cher as an accountant, that would give you a sense of kind of who she was as opposed to somebody in marketing, for example, or, you know, I don't know, a professor at a college, maybe. I have no idea.
Catherine: Street musician.
Steve: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So I only bring that up, Mike, to say that I'm guessing that was a part of it, that it was not accidental. I'm thinking that was intentional because the individuality of the characters to me, I think was a big part of why the story supposedly worked. Maybe it worked back in the '80s. Not sure it works right now in 2022.
Mike: I'm glad you mentioned stereotypes because this was written by someone of Irish descent, directed by a Canadian. And as an Italian, man, is this movie just screaming Italian, Italian, Italian the whole time. Way more than an accounting movie, this is an Italian-American New York movie, but it feels like they're like, well, they love pasta and they live multigenerationally and they yell at each other. Did either of your ears perk up because of all the minestrone?
Catherine: Yes, from the opening credits with the music.
Steve: Oh, the whole thing. And actually my follow-up question to you is, did you find that offensive or did you find that endearing?
Mike: Not offensive. I found it silly. Like I think there are some movies that attack it very specifically. Not Italian, but in My Big Fat Greek Wedding the grandparents in that remind me of my like off-the-boat Italian grandparents' living room perfectly, the orange and red-gold couch covered in plastic. This just felt like somebody had seen other movies based on New York Italians and went like, yeah, we could do that. Not offended. Come on, you shouldn't get offended. We're Italians, who cares. You can make fun of us still I say.
Steve: I'll keep that in mind.
Mike: Please do. Now that we've covered accounting, let's pivot to I guess the movie in general—what I'm calling love, lust, death. Is this a fairy tale? Love and lust. Love and death come up a lot throughout the movie. Everybody's talking about what does love mean? And they're worried about dying. Through a lot of characters who define love, they define running, like, why do men chase women? Because they're afraid to die. And that's where the lust comes in. Do you think this movie makes a good argument for what it means to love somebody and why these kinds of men do what they do when they chase after women?
Catherine: Hmm. Well, I'll go back to the first question about whether this is a fairy tale. More than a fairy tale, I think it's an interesting thought-starter, conversation-starter about just like finding your right partner in life. Because Cher's character is older. She's a widow. And so I think there's a question about like finding love later in life. Is it possible? How does it work? All that kind of thing.
Mike: And older being 37. Ew.
Catherine: Right? Right. Which isn't that old. But yeah. Trying to find love and for her, I guess, like a second time because she was a widow.
Mike: Mm hmm.
Catherine: And then, you know, she's kind of settling with that dude, with Danny.
Mike: She's definitely settling. She says she is not into him, and her mother's like, "Good, don't marry somebody you're in love with." And I think that's tied to because my sense is that this is not the first time Cher's dad has cheated on Cher's mom and that Cher's mom has known forever. But she loves him, so she stays with him. That was my reading of it. And she's like, "Don't marry somebody you love because then you're going to let them hurt you."
Steve: I guess the thing that I'm struggling with is that, and I suppose that maybe in the 1980s, I guess it was common. I don't know. I was a kid. But for people to make the kind of decisions that Cher was making and that others were making in the film. But to me today, that just seems so rare, so foreign, so different from how I would think that people would handle those types of decisions about, you know, who they're dating, who they're going to marry, the consequences of a spouse cheating. I felt like as I was watching this movie, it was like I was—so people know I'm an accountant, of course—but if I was sitting there having lunch with a bunch of astrophysicists and they were talking about things, I would feel like I was just completely on the outside. No context. None of this makes sense completely. That's what I felt like when I was watching the movie, because as I would see these decisions being made, it just would be so contrary to how I would think most, maybe that's a generalization, but most people would think about those decisions here today as opposed to how they would in the '80s, which is why I think in the '80s that might have been, "Oh, hey, this is great. What a story." Today? It just doesn't make any sense to me. And it actually reminded me of Top Gun. I was so excited to watch Top Gun—the '80s one—that I watched it now getting ready to watch the new one. And I watched the '80s one, and I'm like what the freak is this. This is a terrible movie, but it was great back then, I suppose. I don't know. Am I making any sense here, Mike?
Mike: I think I'm going to try to parse out what you're saying that is it like freedom of choice that like people nowadays, it's much more independently driven decisions I'm going to make. I love this person, so I'll go after them or I'll be alone versus all these people felt a little more trapped in their decisions, like Cher felt like she had to settle with Johnny because you got to marry somebody at some point even if you don't really like them that much.
Steve: Well, right. And I mean, I guess that happens today, but that seems so strange to me that she made that decision realizing it was kind of substandard or whatever. And maybe the thought of being alone was worse than having to deal with this. But then how quickly, right, that pivot to Nicolas Cage? I mean, don't get me started on Nicolas Cage.
Mike: Well, we should get started on Nicolas Cage. But I think part of it why I call it a fairy tale, because her uncle, he's the one who's like, "Hey, did you steal that money?" He's like, the moon came down, and after that, but it happens pretty far in the movie where he starts talking about the magic of the moon and he remembers her parents falling in love because he saw how powerful the moon was that night. And her dad out of character was like outside the window, down the street, like looking up at the mother's window. And then the moon starts to seemingly make everybody act a little like Midsummer Night's Dream vibes is what I got. That's why Cher jumps into Ronnie's bed. Ronnie and Johnny are the brothers. It gets very confusing, but Ronnie is Nick Cage and. And that's why the mom goes on a date with John Mahoney who is just one of the neighborhood characters. And so it feels like that the power of the moon is making everybody just a little more in their feels, a little more in their body, a little more lustful, a little less rational. But the movie doesn't lean into that enough. It just kind of is like, I don't know, the moon's big. And if you're going to hint at fairy tale, I say hit the gas a little more.
Steve: That was the second thing that confused me about the movie is why didn't they set that up at the beginning so that then you understood why people were doing what they were doing? Because I'm okay with, like, you know, fairy tale and fantasy and, you know, that kind of thing. But just lay that out for me so I know that's what I should expect. Not use that later sort of light-heartedly and not very deliberately to still kind of keep this confusion because, again, I still I'm still not totally sure I draw the connection between all the things that happened in the movie. I found it very confusing.
Mike: Catherine, did you find it confusing?
Catherine: I didn't find it all that confusing. I would say I still think it's an intriguing movie in terms of looking at love from all different angles, because from Cher's point of view, it's interesting that or it's, I guess just kind of maybe, dark humor that she, you know, is kind of holding out for someone, decides to settle, and then as soon as she finds that person that she's going to settle with, then she meets this person that she has amazing chemistry with, whether it's because of the moon or because it's just Nicolas Cage I don't know. But that seems like, "Oh man, if I had just held out."
Mike: The chemistry starts right before she even talks to him and he's just silhouetted by the fire when he's at the baker's oven, and you just see him sweating in front of the oven, having just unloaded a bunch of heavy bread loaves. It's very sensual.
Steve: Are bread loaves that heavy?
Mike: I think if you have a baker's dozen of them, maybe.
Steve: Well, that's fair.
Mike: He looks pretty built.
Steve: I think what's ironic about that, Catherine, you bring it up and I think it's a great point. Had she not said yes to Johnny, she would have never met Ronnie because Johnny before he's gone out of town to visit his mother who was dying, was like, "Hey, contact my brother and invite him to the wedding." Presumably, had they not been engaged at that point, he would have had no reason to introduce him to his estranged brother.
Mike: No, exactly.
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Mike: With that, Catherine's a black box. I cannot tell how she felt about the movie in general. And I can tell Steve really disliked it. The further we get away from watching it I think the more I like it because I think I'm forgetting some of the dumb stuff, and some of the bigger moments are hitting and I am remembering them fondly. Well, a thing that I find very dumb is that, and the movie tries to explain in a way, is so Johnny leaves town, goes to Sicily because their mother is dying. Ronnie doesn't even know that, and the movies is just like, "Mom doesn't like him." Is this a weird way to get rid of one of the characters so the other two characters can meet?
Catherine: Now that you say it like that, yeah.
Steve: Yeah. Yeah. I'm connecting those dots, Mike.
Mike: It reminded me of a movie that came out in the '90s, While You Were Sleeping. I want to say it's Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman, and she's dating Bill Pullman's brother who falls into a coma. And while that guy is in a coma, Bullock is visiting him and she meets the brother and then falls for him, but that makes more sense to me. The coma love story makes more sense to me than Brother A disappears for a few weeks to take care of mom. And then mom gets better. He says, "Well, we can't get married because anything might kill her now." The movie's goofy.
Steve: It's totally goofy. And can we—speaking of goofy—talk about Nicolas Cage. The whole thing—I'm just baffled by that. I guess that's the third thing that I had about the movie. I'm watching this. I'm like, are you for real? Are you kidding me? This guy got cast for this movie, and it won a bunch of Oscars? Give me a break.
Mike: Elaborate on what you mean by this guy in this movie. Is it is it the acting style? Is it the choices Cage is making?
Steve: It's the acting style. It's the accent. I was listening to this guy talk, and I am really, really, really struggling with it. And I'm looking at the behavior, the explosiveness, but the explosiveness doesn't really have part in this kind of a story. You need to be like, you know, breaking out of prison or, you know, something like that. Again, that didn't make sense. And I realized that explosiveness is probably part of the—I struggled a lot with that.
Mike: Catherine, where are you with Nick Cage?
Catherine: It's over the top, but I think I don't know. So it balances out Cher's performance in a way, I guess. She has a very strong performance as well.
Mike: Yeah, but she has a strong performance that I feel is real.
Catherine: It feels more natural.
Mike: Yes. Cher is great. And I actually see why Cher wins. And I think she walks that line between a natural performance and a bigger cartoonish performance. And Nick Cage, he had bit roles in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and I think Valley Girl had come out. But this might be one of his first bigger movies, and I feel like he hasn't learned how to harness the innate, weird, caginess that why he would blow up so much bigger later. It is unshaped here, a little raw in not the best ways.
Catherine: Oh, the natural performances is I think there is some good natural performances from Cher, as you mentioned, and also from Olympia Dukakis and John Mahoney. And one of my favorite scenes in the movie is when Olympia Dukakis and John Mahoney's characters have that dinner conversation in the restaurant. It felt very natural to me.
Mike: Okay, break down the scene for for the listeners.
Catherine: Yes. So Olympia Dukakis is eating dinner in the restaurant alone, and John Mahoney's character is in there with one of his dates. Who is it? Another young woman far, far far younger than he is. They end up splitting up. So Olympia Dukakis character and John Mahoney's character—they're both in the restaurant alone, and they end up eating dinner together, and they have a very nice conversation. I think that's probably one of my favorite parts of the movie is just how natural all the conversations felt and like you were kind of with the characters. And maybe you could jump in the conversation, too.
Mike: Yes. It's Sharp. It's charming. She's alone because she knows for a fact that her husband is cheating on her. And he's alone, and this is the second or third very young girl who he is on a date with we see get mad at him and bail on him. And so they're just kind of these older, prickly folks who don't often get a lot of time in rom-coms, and they just talk about love and life and what it means, and then have a great evening together.
Catherine: It's good dialogue and a good performance.
Mike: I think, unless anybody has other final thoughts, we've hit everything I wanted to talk about: the accounting, the fairy tale and the qualities, and the acting. Are you guys ready to dive into awards?
Catherine: Steve is like, this movie gets awards?
Steve: That is what I'm thinking.
Mike: Number one. Steve, we'll start with you: best accounting moment.
Steve: Well, it's not for good accounting, but I think the only real accounting moment is when she forgets to make the deposit. And I did have the thought, "Boy, is that how she paid for the end of that makeover and all the clothes that she got." I was delighted to hear that she did not use it for that. She just forgot, and it was in her coat.
Mike: Now, have you ever forgotten something that big? I know you've never done this kind of accounting, but have you ever forgotten an equally important part of your job?
Steve: Sometimes. But, you know, usually it's pretty easy to just go book a journal entry for a few days before, and it's not that big of a deal. That's probably not the best answer.
Mike: That's fair. It's real. It's gritty. It's what we want. Mine is the same. Catherine, what's your best accounting moment?
Catherine: Same. I don't know if there's any other moments to choose from.
Mike: All right. Next up, Catherine, to start with you, pound for pound performance. This is no matter how much screen time they had, who who owned.
Catherine: I have to say Olympia Dukakis.
Mike: Yeah. I definitely see why she won Best Supporting Actress. Steve?
Steve: I agree with that, as a close runner up though, and I don't know his name—either his character or the actor—but it would be the grandpa that was walking the dogs. I found everything that he was doing, not plausible at all, but he was into it, right? He put his heart into it. And, you know, he was he was playing the character.
Mike: There are cartoonish parts of this movie. There's a few different tones, right? Some of it works, some of it doesn't gel together. There's very cartoonish parts and he's one of them. And Olivia Dukakis, I agree, counts as the real acting. But a moment from the grandpa at the very end, when it's at the breakfast table, Johnny shows up. Ronnie is there as well. The aunt and uncle will come in, and maybe accuse Cher of stealing the money. And the grandpa just looks up and says, "I'm confused." Solid delivery. He looks sad and distraught. And at that moment, that's how I felt. So, yes, I agree with both of your submissions. All right. Finally, best scene or worst scene, whichever you want to talk about, Steve?
Steve: I actually would agree with Catherine that the best, most natural scene was that conversation in the cafe with Oliva Dukakis and John Mahoney, I think is how you pronounce his name. That felt very natural, very normal to me. And it was one of the few times where I actually was watching it and what was happening made sense.
Mike: For sure. That's yours. All right, I'll be negative then. The worst. There's a few times that they talk about what it means to have a wolf in you and the reprise, where Cher overhears a couple arguing and she's like, "He has a wolf in him." And then she tries to use this pitch to Nicolas Cage, but he's acting very wolfman-like without any makeup, and it could have been funnier to watch somebody half remember a thing they overheard and thought was smart or poignant, but the movie didn't play it like that. Just like, yes, he's some people have wolves in them. And none of the attempted emotions worked for me. And I thought it was kind of a false note from Cher there. But those are the awards. Those are the moments. That is Moonstruck. So we're saying Moonstruck is not an accounting movie. Yes?
Steve: Not an accounting movie.
Catherine: I can't see this moving on to the next round.
Mike : I can't see that.
Steve: It should not move on to the next round. It should be as dead and inanimate as Nicolas Cage's fake hand, which we never even got into just how weird and bizarre that whole thing was. But let's just leave it on the floor.
Mike: Let's leave it on the floor. Yeah, it's—I again, I think if you go in knowing it's a goofy movie, you might be have a good time with friends watching it. It's certainly not what we're looking for. But listeners maybe to make you happy. Steve, definitely to make you happy. The next movie will be tackling at some point very soon in the season is The Untouchables, so I think the quality will increase greatly.
Catherine: Looking forward to it.
Mike: Catherine, thank you, Steve, thank you. And big thanks to you, dear listener, for surfing along with us. Please subscribe. Leave a review. Tell your buddies if you like the show and feel free to drop us a line on at firstname.lastname@example.org. Surf's up and we'll see you on the next wave.