Romance & Cigarettes
2007 has been an
interesting year for the movie musical. The big hits have been
Dreamgirls (which came out very late last year), Hairspray and
Sweeney Todd --
and while they were all extremely well-done traditional Broadway
adaptations, two movies which tweaked the traditions of the musical were
even more intriguing.
Actually, both of these
films are not from 2007, but because they were smaller and more
experimental they took a little longer to make the multiplexes (as of this
writing, this film still has not gotten a proper wide release despite its
The first shot across the
bow of the traditional musical was the low-key and wonderful Irish import
Once, in which the traditional musical flourishes were muted for a more
reserved age. Instead of the music punctuating the story, the songs
essentially fueled the plotline.
While Once can
whole-heartedly be embraced as a complete and total success, Romance and
Cigarettes, the third directing job by acclaimed actor John Turturro is
more thorny. It's a bit of a hodgepodge, a bit of a mess, but a
is not a traditional movie musical even in the most fundamental way -- the
actual songs are a series of mostly 60s easy listening pop hits, by the
likes of Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, Engelbert Humperdinck and Vicki Carr
-- with a few more modern tracks tossed in. The film often stops as
the actual original pop recordings play, while the characters sing along and
emote over the songs. Romance & Cigarettes
Only a few songs are
actually sung completely by the stars -- such as pop-star-turned-actress
Mandy Moore doing "I Want Candy," Aida Turturro (the director's sister --
who also played star James Gandolfini's sister for several years in The
Sopranos) emoting through "I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now" and
Gandolfini and Susan Sarandon giving a hushed, broken version of Irving
Berlin's "The Girl I Marry."
People have pointed out
that this film takes some stylistic cues from Dennis Potter's The Singing
Detective and Pennies from Heaven -- and while that is true, I
feel that Romance & Cigarettes is more reminiscent of Francis Ford
Coppola's underrated-but-similarly-uneven early-80s semi-musical One From
Turturro has referred to
the film as a "working-class opera," and I guess that is as good a
description you are going to get. The film tells the stories of
desperation of some hard-working people in the outskirts of New York, during
some vague time which could be now or the mid-60s.
Gandolfini plays Nick
Murder (and don't worry, his name is the most threatening thing about this
big galloot) -- an aging construction worker who has grown bored with his
marriage to Susan Sarandon. He starts fantasizing about a coarse
British bird (Kate Winslet having a hoot in this against-type role).
His wandering eye turns his daughters (Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker and
Aida Turturro), his wife's cousin (Christopher Walken) and his mother
(Elaine Stritch) against him. The only friend he has left is his
slightly sex-freak friend (Steve Buscemi.)
If this seems like a pretty
by-the-books storyline, then get ready to be shocked by the film's
surrealistic bent. The dialogue flips back and forth from naturally
coarse to high-brow emoting. The characters almost never do what the
audience expects. Fantasy sequences slip in and out without much
fanfare. Whenever things get too complicated or depressing, the
characters slip into fantasies of complex musical numbers.
Romance & Cigarettes
is far from a perfect movie, and yet it feels at once more fascinating and
occasionally frustrating for the very eccentric storytelling choices it
makes. Here is a film which is not afraid to dance to its own beat and
dares you to follow.
Besides, you really haven't
lived until you watch Christopher Walken emoting his way through a filmed
dramatization of Tom Jones' jealous murder ballad "Delilah." That
alone is worth the price of admission.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: December 31, 2007.