She may be best known for her eclectic discography, dazzling wardrobe, and reputation as a bona fide gay icon, but Cher has also racked up an impressive number of acting roles and even an Academy Award.
The star may have played witches, widows, and, of course, herself over the last five decades, but recent reports revealed a change of direction in the form of a movie re-enactment of the Flint water crisis that exposed thousands to lead contamination.
Family issues eventually put a halt to Cher’s long-awaited return to our screens, leaving fans questioning whether or not she will ever take another movie role. Never fear, though – there are plenty of gems buried in her expansive filmography. You’ve probably seen the likes of Mask and Mermaids, but in honor of her birthday, here are just a few of our other favorites.
The star’s acting career kicked off with a few musical cameos and a starring role in 1969’s Chastity, but it wasn’t until over a decade later that she began to attract critical acclaim. Released in 1983, Silkwood chronicles the fight for the rights of workers exposed to nuclear radiation at an Oklahoma power plant. Cher stands out in her role as Dolly; not only does she prove her acting prowess, she shines in a movie that ultimately becomes about the power of female friendship. Furthermore, the fact that she portrays a lesbian is almost beside the point – it adds another layer to Dolly’s personality but never dominates it.
Perhaps Cher’s most memorable movie role – or, at least, her most memorable line – came in 1987 when she played Loretta, an Italian-American widow torn between her fiancé and his younger brother, in Moonstruck. Set in Brooklyn Heights, the movie sees the star, with her iconic black perm and a distinctive Italian New Yorker accent, work a series of low-key looks – the key exception being the black strapless gown she wears to a decidedly high-key date with her fiancé’s brother.
The movie is also refreshing in the sense that the female character has all the autonomy – despite her superstitions, Cher plays a strong woman whose affair actually works out pretty well for her. Then, of course, there’s the iconic scenein which she slaps Ronny for declaring his love. The star issues a sharp, concise response which went on to be imitated by drag queens worldwide: “Snap out of it!”
The Witches of Eastwick
This light-hearted, campy tale of three witches united to destroy one man is definitely worth a watch. As is often the case with films involving witches, there are countless metaphors to be found; not only are the women outcast for their so-called promiscuity, they’re seduced by a sexist and pushed to rivalry. That is, however, until they discover their skills and reinforce the age-old metaphor of the power of a scorned woman.
The standout scene comes when Cher, who plays witch Alex, rejects Daryl (before being manipulated by him) with a slew of verbal insultsincluding the deliciously concise: “You have no taste, a lousy sense of humor and you smell.” Ironically enough, there were problems on set – in a later interview, the star revealed that she quit on-set before returning and that the producers had assumed the women would embody the stand-offish diva persona on set. Unsurprisingly, this wasn’t the case.
Burlesque isn’t exactly critically-acclaimed. Some have called it “horrible”, whereas even Cher herselfsaid, “It wasn’t a good film. It had a few good moments, but I didn’t even like my performance that much.” That being said, it’s camp, it’s occasionally so bad that it’s brilliant and it spawned a soundtrack – and one particularly killer song– which went on to win a Golden Globe. It may not be an emotive masterpiece à la Silkwood, but it’s Cher. And Christina Aguilera. In a film. Together.
The storyline follows the standard formula – Ali, played by Aguilera, is a young girl with big dreams who quit her job to become a superstar. She stumbles upon a burlesque club run by Tess, played by Cher, and is initially rejected before seizing an opportunity to showcase her talent and gain the recognition of her dreams. It’s not exactly new ground, but let’s be clear once again – it’s two musical legends on screen together accompanied by an award-winning soundtrack. There’s also a scene which sees Cher smash a window with a crowbar. What’s not to love?
Tea With Mussolini
Cher has played the maternal role on various occasions, but maybe the most nuanced – and, undoubtedly, fabulous – matriarch she has played is American widow Elsa in Tea With Mussolini. In the movie, Elsa is sophisticated and wealthy, both qualities which she channels into establishing a trust fund for Luca, the son of a disinterested father and a recently-deceased mother. Things quickly get tricky when he falls for Elsa, quickly becoming envious of her new lover – just another complicated role.
Not only does she play the role of a heroine against a background of war and political violence, she again depicts a nuanced character still worthy of celebration in an industry often guilty of stereotyping women. Not only that, Cher has consistently starred in films which feature gay, lesbian and trans characters who are more layered than we – unfortunately – are used to seeing on screen. Complex sexual identities are often part and parcel of a Cher movie; perhaps one of the reasons she’s still so widely celebrated within the LGBTQ community.