Cher’s a pretty easy target for ridicule. Of all the jabs that Ricky Gervais took during the Golden Globes, his dismissal of Cher was perhaps the laziest. After all, from the middling pop rock she produced with Sonny Bono to more recent and more risible forays into dance efforts, Cher’s musical career teeters along the edge of self-parody without much help from comedians.
Cher’s career as an actress is a bit of a different story. There’s still comedy fodder to be found, but given the right material, she can succeed both in comedy and drama. To coincide with the release of Burlesque, Fox has repackaged six previously available MGM titles into a shiny pink box titled Cher: The Film Collection. You won’t find three of Cher’s most noted films here — Warner Brothers’ Mask and The Witches of Eastwick and the criminally unavailable-on-DVD Robert Altman film Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean — but the collection offers a chance to see Cher’s career progress from insubstantial farce to serious drama.
The first title is Good Times, which is probably most notable for being William Friedkin’s directorial debut. He would go on to much better than this. Sonny and Cher star as themselves in a loosely connected series of sketches that parody various movie genres. It’s uninspired, but probably not worse than the next film, Chastity, which fails miserably in its attempts at serious storytelling. Written and produced by Sonny, the film follows Cher as a hitchhiker traveling the country looking for love.
Deterred by the failure of Chastity, Cher took the ’70s off from acting, but returned the following decade with a string of her greatest films, including Mike Nichols’s Silkwood, which dramatizes the true story of power plant worker Karen Silkwood, who died under mysterious circumstances. The film, which was nominated for five Oscars, is certainly a vehicle for Meryl Streep, who played the titular character, but Cher is impressive as she disappears into the supporting role of Karen’s roommate Dolly. Establishing herself as a reliable supporting presence in this and Jimmy Dean certainly led to the leading role success that soon followed.
Moonstruck is the next entry in the set, and it’s the best film here, and perhaps, the best of Cher’s career. Expertly scripted by John Patrick Shanley and directed by Norman Jewison, the film stars Cher as a slightly eccentric woman who is proposed to by one man (Danny Aiello), but falls in love with his brother (Nicolas Cage). A warm film full of richly drawn details, Moonstruck is a charming rendering of the romantic comedy. Fortunately, the disc included here is the newer deluxe edition that finally presented the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio as opposed to the previous pan-and-scan DVD. It’s also the only disc here with more than just a trailer for extras, and it includes a commentary track with Cher, Jewison and Shanley, as well as featurettes on the making of the film, the food and the music.
Cher’s follow-up to Moonstruck isn’t nearly as charming. 1990’s Mermaids features Cher pushing deeper into an eccentric role, and tipping toward the obnoxious for it. The coming-of-age story features strong performances from Winona Ryder and Christina Ricci as Cher’s daughters, along with Bob Hoskins as suitor Lou, but it’s mostly mushy dramedy cliché.
Rounding out the set is World War II period piece Tea with Mussolini, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, and while its Florence setting practically ensures a good-looking movie, the pacing and story aren’t much to speak of. Cher holds her own among the powerhouse cast though, which includes Joan Plowright, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith.
Cher: The Film Collection is probably a set for Cher enthusiasts only, as the quality of the films included is variable, and they all exist as separate editions already. (Moonstruck fans should wait for the Feburary Blu-ray release anyway.)