Romance and Cigarettes
Now Showing at: Cincinnati World Cinema on February 12th - 13th.
Review by: Larry Thomas
A friend calls and offers to take you to a movie. The friend says it’s a domestic drama about a blue-collar construction worker cheating on his wife with a much younger woman. The stars of this film are James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, and Kate Winslet. So far, so good…right? Then the friend says that it’s also very funny AND a musical. At that point you begin questioning said friend’s sanity.
No need. This is a real movie. It’s called Romance and Cigarettes, and is terrific. Written and directed by actor John Turturro, with rumored additional scripting by executive producers The Coen Brothers, Romance and Cigarettes manages to capture all the emotions of real life, with everyone concerned giving stellar performances. And, who among us has survived thus far without associating various life events with a particular song?
Gandolfini is married to Sarandon for many years. He is having a mid-life crisis fling with the foul-mouthed and flamboyant Kate Winslet. Particularly important moments in the script are punctuated by the use of pop songs, with the principals singing over the original version, which is a good idea, since none of them can really sing. The tunes range from Englebert Humperdink, to Tom Jones, to Janis Joplin, and more. The choreography looks as if it might have been improvised on the spot, which gives it a fresh, spontaneous feeling. For a point of reference, think of the works of Dennis Potter. His BBC-TV series The Singing Detective, and film Pennies from Heaven, with Steve Martin and Bernadette Peters, are similar, although different.
The supporting cast is outstanding. Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker and Aida Turturro, who have formed a rock band in order to express their anger toward their father, play Gandolfini and Sarandon’s three daughters. Steve Buscemi plays Gandolfini’s co-worker who is always dispensing advice. That grand dame of Broadway, Elaine Stritch, turns up in one scene as Gandolfini’s mother. British comedian Eddie Izzard is the church organist. And the always off-center Christopher Walken has a couple of scenes as Sarandon’s cousin.
And just when you may think you have this film figured out, near the end it shifts tone. While this is usually the kiss of death for any film, since it can mean complete disruption in the action, it works here. This third act plays out appropriately, and adds the correct coda to our story and characters.
Now you’re wondering…if the film is this good, and has such a great cast, why didn’t it show up in regular theatres? Good question. Unfortunately, it got caught up in nefarious corporate machinations between Sony and MGM. In the end, director Turturro bought back the rights for a limited time in order to at least get it his work some theatrical exposure. Good for him, because it’s well worth the effort. After two viewings so far, it’s becoming more apparent that Romance and Cigarettes is a neglected masterpiece.
You have a chance to see it in 35mm at the Cincinnati Art Museum on Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm. It’s a presentation of Cincinnati World Cinema, which continues its never-ending quest to bring the best in unusual films to Cincinnati.