Romance & Cigarettes (2005)
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I see cultdom beckoning for this little gem, late-night showings, repeated viewings, singalongs and favourite lines of dialogue bandied about like a secret currency. It's unlikely that it would have been made if it wasn't John Turturro writing and the Coens producing, but now it's out there, I recommend it be seen, if only for curiosity value. You either hate it or love it and -- for all its flaws -- I loved it.
Predictably, the film is just a fraction beyond offbeat. For starters it is a musical original songs and irreverent covers belch incongruously through the pithy dialogue and, while appearing slightly amateurish at times, in the main it is shot with a grimy panache.
The anti-hero is Nick Murder (James Gandolfini) - an overweight, chain-smoking construction worker who is married to Kitty (Susan Sarandon), but having a torrid affair with ballsy English slapper Tula (Kate Winslet). Nick has a trio of daughters (Mandy Moore precocious sex bomb, Mary Louise Parker punk and Aida Tuturro chubby mummy's girl) who pass the time knocking out grungey rock music in their back garden. Plot-wise, that's about your lot - superficially, the movie is about a family coping with adultery, but this is the Coen brothers, so there are always points of interest lurking in the mundane subject matter.
If you're going to have a stab at unconventional drama, it is best to arm yourself with some quality to beef up your oddballs. So Tuturro has called in favours from Steve Buscemi who raises more than a few chortles as Nick's philosophising co-worker, and an elaborately coiffed Christopher Walken who lends the fancy footwork he cultured on that Fatboy Slim video to some of the more surreal dance sequences. Weirder still is Eddie Izzard's new age church choir organist who distributes marital advice to Mrs. Murder in between belting out gospel hits.
A stellar cast then, and one cannot fault the promotional poster, which is so dominated by Winslet's mountainous, and, let's face it, almost certainly air-brushed breasts (no offence Kate) that it has been crudely censored on the London Underground.
The poster hints at Winslet being some sort of femme fatale, but she actually has few scenes to demonstrate anything other than jiggling, pouting and athletic sexual gymnastics. Much of her dialogue (delivered in an ambiguously mid-Pennines northern accent) is absolutely filthy dirty and is, if you close your eyes, uncomfortably evocative of Kathy Staff in Last of the Summer Wine. No wonder I had nightmares afterwards.
Winslet is following in the footsteps of Helena Bonham Carter, shrugging off the corset and the irritating "English rose" label by taking increasingly earthy roles. Serious, cerebral critics (their spectacles steaming up with every cleavage shot) will no doubt call this performance "brave", "challenging" or even "career defining". More realistically, she probably saw it as an ideal chance to prance around in hot pants and spout smut breathlessly into a telephone whilst trying desperately not to giggle. Either way, it's obviously some sort of trend among English actresses watch out for Keira Knightley in the new remake of Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!
But beneath the silliness beats a mournful heart. The Coens' influence, though undeniably prominent, does not swamp Tuturro's serious side and the last third of the movie sees a significant mood change.
Buscemi, Walken and the quirky choreography take a back seat as Gandolfini and Sarandon muscle their way to the fore. It is an impressively gripping finale to a curiously disjointed film, and one which, on balance, just about tips it towards triumph rather than turkey.
The story is wafer thin and the musical set pieces veer dangerously between hit and miss. Frankly it's a bit of a shambles at times, but no less enjoyable for that.
The choice of backdrop - New York suburbs and anonymous looking workers' housing - only serves only to emphasise the colourfulness of each of the characters. Like Robert Altman's films, the banal is turned into the extraordinary using popular music and quite original camera work. Personally, I don't see this film as a "musical" in the sense that the music is not used to tell the story but rather as mood pieces for various scenes.
This is one of the few films that I will invest in the DVD as soon as it is out.
There's a certain quality to Romance and Cigarettes that marks it as a pop-marked must-see, a picture with terrific songs (ranging from Joplin to James Brown to Elvis to Cindi Lauper), and some terrific numbers to go along with them. There's an exuberance that Tuturro reaches for that he achieves like few who've made musicals in the past several years; his actors, however much they do or don't seem to be singing with the songs playing on during the numbers, are into the groove, the abstract/surreal quality that at times makes it like a whacked out extended dream sequence on the Sopranos (Buscemi and Tuturro sister Aida were also on the show, the latter here as Gandolfini's daughter as opposed to his sister on the show). There is so much that does entertain that it becomes a shame when it starts to dawn on one that a) the film has a shallow center to it, as we know nothing much about Nick and Kitty's marriage aside from the spoken words of "we were in love, then, not", and then leading into b) an unnecessarily bleak ending, where the possible reigns of the high spirits are replaced by a kind of screeching-halt aesthetic, albeit with the most organically sung (i.e. out of the scene itself not as a NUMBER) song in the film.
But for fans of film in general it's a scatter-shot treat that provides the kinds of joy that the usual Hollywood grind wont provide. Top of the pops belong to Christopher Walken, who has a strange accent (black guy or slight southern-touch as Cousin Bo?) pulls off his funniest in a song since the Weapon of Choice music video, and just whenever on screen has one either smiling or laughing hysterically. Winslet is also astoundingly good here in a part that requires her to be tart-tongued but not a floozy, sophisticated in a manner of speaking even if the 'girl on the side'. She gives it her all, which also goes (mostly) for the main middle-aged stars. Sometimes you do wish you could just hear the actors belt out the songs themselves without the background tuning up as if it's like a demented karaoke out of the New York/New Jersey blue collar world. But when they do connect, it's a lot of fun. Same goes for the movie itself- a very admirable first time out, if almost too ambitious for the nature of the script.
He's cheating on his wife in a way which isn't glamorous, just rather cheap and rather human. Susan Sarandon as the wife is really funny through all her love-hate. This family is dysfunctional, but in a way that's impossible not to like.
And it really is a musical. Sometimes. The characters burst out, miming to hit songs. That's show stoppers, but in the good sense of the word. It's all worth seeing.
If you want to see singing and dancing noir, stick with Potter's THE SINGING DETECTIVE or the underrated Martin-Peters flick PENNIES FROM HEAVEN.
The sexual confusions and middle-aged masculine betrayals which preoccupied Potter are here, but while one or two of the songs have a passing relevance to the emotional dramas being played out in the rest of the script, some of them Christopher Walken's rendition of the Tom Jones hit 'Delilah' (oddly Walken's rendition of the title song in 'Pennies From Heaven' was the only genuinely impressive thing about that film) are astonishingly contrived. We can see the songs coming, which despite their grimy, urban context deprives them of the spontaneous energy that fuelled Potters best work. Song titles and lyrics, similarly, are levered into the otherwise conversational (and occasionally very witty) script at every opportunity including, for no apparent reason, a verse of Potter's favourite hymn, 'Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown'.
There are some very funny moments Kate Winslet's line, on being dumped by boyfriend James Gandolfini, "You wouldn't be able to say that so easily if I was licking your b***!", produced a huge roar of laughter from the audience at the screening I attended. Some of the performances are, in and of themselves, very good Sarandon and Elaine Stritch, particularly. Gandolfini plays his trademark lovable-rogue, and Winslet plays, very successfully, against type and gives the impression that she has hitherto unsuspected comic talents. Steve Buscemi's movie-nerd builder is amusing. Mary-Louise Parker (astonishingly miscast) Aida Turturro and even Mr Walken simply seem to be along for the ride.
Played as a comedy-drama with no music and a greater reliance on the observational wit the writer-director clearly possesses, this could have been a fine film. It isn't.
I was not let down in the slightest.
I love how it takes something we all do at any given time (seek solace in singing a song that portrays how we're feeling) and makes a movie around it. The cast is simply to die for. They're all amazing, though we could have used more Mary-Louise Parker and Eddie Izzard, and it's a perfect film for all of them.
Love it...absolutely love it.
The previous reviewer was absolutely correct - it was a very different type of movie from the usual.
A star-studded vehicle wherein the characters burst into song spontaneously at appropriate intervals - it engages the audience immediately since all of the songs are most recognizable. In essence, you've attended a super movie and participated in the unfolding story as well.
The musical aspects are a "master stroke." There is an underlying drama depicting the difficulties of relationships, family and everyday life and in no way is the story shortchanged by the use of the music.
There are many laughs and alternately serious moments and yet somehow the sum of the parts work to make an enjoyable and satisfying whole.
My understanding is the movie has been caught in merger "limbo" delaying the U.S. release and it's a terrible, terrible shame.
John Turturro is to be commended for his original screenplay and his directorial gifts.
Release this movie to the U.S. Moviegoig Public..........you won't regret it!
Usually with musicals, I'm willing to give character development a pass if the musical sequences are spectacular enough to entertain, but here we are treated to one-dimensional characters AND half-baked musical sequences. What another reviewer said about the way that pop songs function in the mode that many of us find them to in everyday life (comfort, support, encouragement, etc.) could have been true, but I think that reviewer is being far too generous. Granted, the song choices are great, but because I care so little for the characters or the situations that they find themselves in, I can't suddenly view them as three-dimensional beings that would need pop songs to help them cope. The choreography seems purposefully sloppy as well, which makes it seem like these characters don't even really care. Strangely, I find myself actually liking all these songs less than I did before I had seen them used in the film. (Ok, except maybe Dusty Springfield's rendition of "Piece of My Heart." She just can't be diminished.)
With that said, I do still hope that other filmmakers, even Turturro maybe, will reapproach the musical. ONCE was a great attempt last year, but with a very specific formula that would be hard to replicate. Something could still be done along the basic lines of ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES to better effect. However, this doesn't cut it.
It's gritty and real whilst indulging the fantasy that allows us to get by. The music adds colour to what is already happening, it's seamless. The Engelbert Humperdinck song near the beginning is possibly one of the best ever performed songs in a movie, it's so funny! The characters are engaging and full, bordering on grotesque. Even with their exaggerated sides, there's part of them thats simple and warm, and could be the neighbour up the street or a member of your own family.
It's not a complex story but it is rich, hitting many of life's notes with degree of understatement spiced with well projected emotions.
The artistic camera work stands out in many scenes, a joy for the eye. All in all a real down to earth arty film that will appeal to people from all walks of life. For me it doesn't get much better than this.
The brilliant and beautiful Kate Winslet once again proves herself as a great diverse character actress and the even more stunning Susan Sarandon does a fantastic job as the long suffering and hard working wife and mother. James Gandolfini plays the cheating nicotine- addicted husband who is surrounded by the strong and charismatic women in his life: his wife, his lover, his daughters and his mother. Buscemi and Walken are top-notch as usual. It was interesting to see Mandy Moore's involvement in this eccentric and occasionally filthy film. She clearly does not want to be labelled as a teen- virgin typecast actress from her performance in Romance and Cigarettes however; she still looks every bit the young, pretty pop princess/ actress. It would have been nice to see her loose the suntan and delicate appearance and opt for a more hardened image as does her co-stars Mary Louise Parker and Aida Turturro and the rest of the cast.
Romance and Cigarettes brings fresh new life into the tired and almost dead genre. It is not the type of musical that asks its audience to forget about life's problems whilst watching it's colourful, creative and highly entertaining use of mise-en-scene, costumes, dialogue etc instead it questions ones actions in life which ultimately can lead to one's regret and in the meantime gives you one hell of a laugh!!
The opening scenes seemed to be a preamble to a simple story about betrayal in an everyman sort of family. And then there was music. And James Gandolfini was singing a Tom Jones hit (if my recollection is right) in the street accompanied by dancing policemen. I grinned from ear to ear for the entire remainder of the film.
I am waiting to see the film again, in part to decide whether the lover so colorfully portrayed by Kate Winslett, was a fantasy or a reality. It doesn't really matter because she was so real for Nick Murder. Mary-Louise Parker was at her quirkiest as one of his daughters.
Visually, the film includes a variety of perspectives, opening with a pullback from a microscopic view of a few pores on Nick's big toe to his entire hulking body and the sofa on which he sleeps. The music scenes are all as original as the songs chosen.
Enjoy this film. There aren't many out there that entertain on so many levels.
I really disliked Romance & Cigarettes; I disliked every eccentric, style-driven, often cringe-inducing minute of it for a number of reasons. The film was made by a man called John Turturro, who I've seen in a number of very good films and who has worked with a couple of America's more exciting contemporary directors; names such as Martin Scorsese, Joel and Ethen Coen as well as Spike Lee. Trouble is, Turtutto is just an actor and, with only two prior directorial efforts credited to his name according to this site, it is advised he stick to acting in those small-but-very-noticeable roles in films that go on and garner much deserved attention. Clockers, Jungle Fever, Rounders and The Colour of Money spring to mind and it's quite feasible there are others out there I'm yet to stumble upon.
The film masquerades as a cheery and colourful study on life, love and the tribulations that these things entail when the fact you've been stupid enough to cheat on your partner catches up with you. But this film, like its makers probably would as well, tells us that its lead character's fling with another woman was some kind of 'natural drive' or some kind of "spiritual calling that drove the male onto another spiritual level that forced him into confronting his fears and desires and thus.......blah, blah, blah" You know what? Rubbish John Turturro, absolute rubbish – you're a good actor at playing those snotty and wormy characters you often get in crime driven films (Miller's Crossing stands out in memory) but your style as a director completely masks the fact you're making a film about idiots, making idiotic and ill advised decisions under a pretense of something deeper.
So if the director's out of his element then the cast additionally follow suit with a string of musical numbers done really badly that might completely miss the target in the sense people will find the bad singing and eccentricity of the pieces 'funny' more so than they will find what it is they're actually singing about quite humbling; which is what they should be feeling given the themes of loss of love and despair held within the songs. But the film itself is built around James Gandolfini's character named Nick Murder and his life which is balanced around working as some sort of maintainer of bridges with his buddy Angelo (Buscemi); his life at home with wife Kitty (Sarandon) and their three daughters while lastly, an elusive affair with Tula, in what is an image shredding role for Kate Winslet, given her prior work.
I mean, the film is rubbish. It masquerades as this post-modern and energetic look at love and the dilemmas when you feel for two people and the moral choices that accompany it. No it's not; it's about a bored, working class American slob who's just not getting enough action, isn't satisfied enough and plays around a bit on the side for his own amusement. Very early on, there's a musical number that would-be about loneliness and general confusion as the morality of the situation looks to sink in but all the women wear pretty, quaint revealing costumes and we get certain close ups of certain areas the women possess and you begin to have this sick, dirty realisation that this is what everyone's more interested in. I mean, essays and books have been written about how cinema is constructed for and around a male perspective but this just sticks two fingers up at all of that and says "So what!? We're going through with it anyway!"
Twinned with this is an annoying little subplot about equally annoying people, those being Nick and Kitty's three daughters Constance (Parker); Rosebud (Turturro) and Baby (Moore); whose full name is rather disturbingly 'Baby Murder', and their band that they try to get going which is flagging as each day goes by what with their horrid, annoying guitar and piano playing and singing – I know it's done badly on purpose but who on Earth thought it might be funny? Who actually finds it amusing? I read afterwards that the 'Moore' that plays Baby is a certain Mandy Moore, a singer and good God – why, oh why would you accept a role in a film in which you play a really bad musician if you're a musician yourself – perhaps she hadn't been selling many records, maybe the cash situation was low.
So in short; it's a disaster – Angelo plays the Jiminy Cricket/conscience role that pops up and offers Nick tidbits of advice whenever the film feels he needs it, which is a bit silly. There's a little plot twist later on that leads the film off down another route towards supposed redemption (which is what the makers would tell you it's about) but it's very silly and bails the film out in terms on needing resolution. All in all, rather a large and silly mess made by someone who has worked with, arguably, the best but is far from those persons' respective level.
I just don't see what this film had to offer: it was not outstanding in any way (except the cast list, as previously stated). Characterisation was unconvincing (as previously stated); plot was not sufficiently engaging; setting added nothing to the overall effect.
Set in no particular time period (present-day cars mingle with 1960s pompadours), this quasi-musical tells the completely dispensable story of a big oafish lout (James Gandolfini, so physically disgusting for so much of the movie that I actually got tired of simply looking at him) who cheats on his wife (Susan Sarandon) with a crass harlot (Kate Winslet, bringing the movie a burst of energy) and then feels bad for it. Big deal. This exact same story could be told by anyone about anyone in any number of ways, so why should we care about this particular man and his particular story? Well, Turturro doesn't answer that question, which is the movie's biggest flaw.
The film veers all over the place in tone. For its first two-thirds, it doesn't take itself seriously at all -- every musical number is a pastiche. Then it lurches into tragedy for its final half hour and ends on a downer note completely at odds with anything else that preceded it. Turturro gathers a large and talented cast, and then wastes most of it. The film sticks too closely with Gandolfini, who isn't interesting enough to hold our interest, and completely ignores all of the marginal characters that bring pizazz to the story. Actors like Bobby Cannavale, Christopher Walken and Mary-Louise Parker simply drop out of the movie without making the slightest impression, while we're stuck following around boring schmuck Gandolfini while he mopes and moans.
I guess Turturro deserves some kudos at least for creativity, but little else about this movie deserves your time or energy.
The stellar ensemble cast is led by James Gandolfini as Nicky Murder, central causation or consternation of it all; with Susan Sarandon as his wife Kitty, discontented, wallowing in nostalgia & jealousy; Kate Winslet as his mistress Tula, thoroughly enjoyed her performances, especially the vivacious segment of "Do you love me like you kiss me" (aka Scapricciatiello); Steve Buscemi as fellow work mate Angelo, himself ever outrageous and 'dirty-mouthed'; and his trio of daughters: Mary-Louise Parker, subtle portrayal of not so demure Constance; Mandy Moore, guitar twanging wedlock seeking Baby; Aida Turturro, love-lost loving Rosebud. Christopher Walken as Cousin Bo gets to perform with a host of pregnant mothers dancing to the tune of "(I'm just) a prisoner of love" and the literal acting out of infidelity alive lyrics of Tom Jones' "Delilah." Elaine Stritch as Nick's Mom, Mrs.Murder, has the best lines in her four-minute appearance.
You can tell the whole cast and crew had a terrifically fun time together making Turturro's 'homemade musical' - as coined by Turturro himself on the DVD's 'Making of' feature. The production has an impressive list of producers: United Artists/MGM (filmed in 2005, Cruise/Wagner joined UA Nov. 2006), ICON Entertainment International (Mel Gibson), Joel and Ethan Coen, GreeneStreet Films (Fisher Stevens). This is an exceptional musical drama treatment which adults can appreciate and enjoy with delight. Go for it.