Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Romance & Cigarettes: Grade A

Romance & Cigarettes (2007)
James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken, Eddie Izzard; Writer-Director John Turturro.

“Madcap” is the word that comes to mind. It is a nominal musical, but also a satire of musicals. We hear originals from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s, including James Brown, Elvis, Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdink, and many others – all well chosen tune cooties that stick in your ear for days. The cast seems to have a blast singing them and dancing to some weakly formatted choreography. Sarandon does well, and apparently Winslet really can sing. Walken can’t of course, but you are laughing so hard at his Elvis schtik you don’t care. The cast sings just a little, for fun, but mostly lip-syncs to the originals, because otherwise it would be a horror picture.

The story, such as it is, concerns Sarandon’s fury over husband Ganolfini’s infidelity. She recruits Walken to help track down Winslet the hussie, and there is an actual catfight (interspersed with song, of course). The husband eventually sees the error of his ways and tries to patch it up. It takes a long time to tell this story because there are so many nonsequitur scenes along the way. There is no serious character development though. The outline story is just a framework on which to hang song and dance numbers. Yet the music is not related to the story. It is just music for the sake of music. As a satire of the genre then, the movie doesn’t quite work because of that.

Oddly, the dialog centers around crude descriptions of sexual activity and sexual organs. Writers and directors take a note: this is 2008, and there is the internet now, maybe you’ve heard. Sexual crudity is no longer shocking or funny, doesn’t develop character or plot, so why not use your fine craft to tell us something?

The acting in this film is compelling, especially by Sarandon, Winslet, and Buscemi. Gandolfini will always be Tony Soprano and seems miscast here. But this is not high drama, more like sketch comedy. The multitude of self-contained, five-minute sketches is mostly engaging, even if pointless overall. The sets and costumes are good: working class Brooklyn or Queens in the early to mid 1970’s, is my guess, although it is difficult to be sure since there are several anachronisms. This movie is weird, wacky, chaotic, bizarre, not for everybody, but entirely original and a pleasure to experience.

No comments:

Post a Comment