Thursday, March 23, 2006

ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES - crazy beautiful

I have a feeling that ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES is one of those films that you either find pretentious and indulgent or love to pieces. I am firmly in the latter camp. Written and directed by John Turturro (the actor featured in many a Coen Brothers movie) we are firmly in that kind of weird and wonderful world, populated by odd-ball characters and capers.

The movie focuses on a family headed up by a fat fireman called Nick (James Gandolfini.) He is married to a wedding dress-maker called Kitty (
Susan Sarandon) and has three daughters. His wife pines for a former lover and his daughters are obsessed with a hilarious wannabe rock-star called Fryburg (the brilliant Bobby Canavale.) To add to the complication, Nick is attracted to a dirty-talking red-head (Kate Winslett) and is being egged on by his lewd best mate Angelo (Steve Buscemi). The subject matter of the movie is therefore all the messy stuff that happens in life - mid-life crises, weary marriages, obnoxious teenagers, first love. And the down-and-dirty texture is built up with brilliant suburban locales, costumes and a whole cast of eccentric supporting characters - notably Christopher Walken as the Elvis-loving vengeful friend of Kitty.

I've seen the movie described as a musical, not least by the producers. But I think that's a bit misleading. It's not a full on musical where the action periodically stops and the movie breaks into a staged musical number. Rather, at certain points in the story, the characters sing along to kitschy songs of the '60s - Englebert Humperdinck, Tom Jones and the like. It's rather like the camera follows the characters into their little day-dreams before spinning back into the reality of the flick. I guess it really is a matter of taste, but I thought the music was used brilliantly to add to the sense of whimsy and wonder. Plus, any chance to see the crazy genius that is Christopher Walken doing his dance schtick is a bonus.

I can perfectly see how some will find the project indulgent or
eccentric for the sake of it, but to my mind, ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES is one of the most touching, funny and genuinely crazy movies I have ever seen and I would strongly urge you to give it a try.

ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES showed at Venice 2005 and is now playing in the UK. I don't know if it will get a US release.

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