Tuesday, February 19, 2008


John Turturro is one of those great actors known the to the casual film goer as "Hey! It's that crazy guy!" Whether he is a foulmouthed purple jumpsuit bowler named Jesus, a hillbilly goofball, a career gambler, a paranoid night-watchman, a racist pizzeria employee, an irate quiz-show contestant, Adam Sandler's butler, or being peed upon by a giant robot (!) in last years summer blockbuster, this strange mix of odd independent films and crass bottom-common-denominator studio stuff has to instill a strange outlook.

While Turturro's initial pair directing efforts have not greatly interested me, this film (which has a two year tortured history before being self-distributed out of the directors own funds before a dumping on DVD) certainly did. In particular, the casting call is about unusual as it comes: James "Tony Soprano" Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Elaine Stritch, British cross-dressing stand-up comedian Eddie Izzard and singer/starlet Mandy Moore. Taking a page out of the Dennis Potter style-guide and mixing domestic drama with bold and fantastical musical interludes, the resulting film, Romance & Cigarettes is a shaggy and lumbering beast with the number of genius moments equaling the number of embarrassing ones. It lies somewhere in the no-mans-land between Moulin Rouge and Dancer in the Dark; territory most definitely undeserving of the indifference it received.

The story follows bridge maintenance worker (Gandolfini) and adulterer as he is caught by his wife, asked of marriage by his mistress, shunned by his daughters and preached to by his friend and co-worker. Of course, the story itself it almost besides the point, as a number of actors are allowed indulge in the familiar (Walken is zanier than ever belting out Tom Jones' Delilah) and the unfamiliar (Winslet gets to trash it up Helena Bonham Carter-style with bouncing bosom and raunchy phone sex (in all fairness, those familiar with Kate Winslet's guest-starring part in Brit-Com Extras with find her just as delightful here; with the added bonus of post-coital consumption of greasy fried chicken (a self-deprecating scene of equal joy to Kurt Russell munching a plate of nachos in Death Proof) and an 'under-water musical number' of a Nick Cave tune).

While the opening of the film is undeniably off putting and uneven, things get smoother and sweeter as things progress. A little patience may be required early on, but the finale of the film is a rewarding one. There are many, many small pleasures along the way, not unlike the acting career of the director in charge.

Come Out Tuesday, February 19th for this off-the wall slice of singing cinema. The actors involved here let it all hang out, humiliating or no, and shoot for the moon. Drinks at 8pm. Showtime at 8:30.


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