Monday, December 31, 2007
Romance & Cigarettes (USA, 2007, John Turturro)
There is a boldness in John Turturro's Romance & Cigarettes, as Turturro has produced a karaoke musical that stars non-singers (shades of Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You) and has them spontaneously belting out a wide array of very familiar tunes in both expected and unexpected places. Choosing a Queens working class family for his story’s setting, Turturro should be given some credit for attempting to breathe some blue collar life into the largely middlebrow musical genre. While he doesn’t always have his feet rooted beneath him while in that world, Turturro does craft a film this is often delightfully rude and irreverent. Further, some of the set pieces are wonderfully bawdy and tasteless. However, while Romance & Cigarettes is clearly meant to be both parody and homage, the film has an overall tonal inconsistency and suffers from the occasional bout of tin-ear-itis, which ultimately derails this sometimes interesting attempt at reinvigorating the genre.
A skeletal summary of this threadbare story will suffice. James Gandolfini , the portentously named Nick Murder, is middle-aged married man obsessed with the red-tressed and foul-mouthed Tula (Kate Winslet). When his wife Kitty (Susan Sarandon) learns of this betrayal, after enlisting the support of her daughters and friends, she gives Nick the heave-ho. Nick then embarks on a journey to redeem himself in his wife’s and children’s eyes. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. I thought so. Anyways…
Given the familiarity of the plot, it is not terribly surprising that the film has no real narrative drive, as the tale of a marriage gone wrong is given nowhere to go, at least until the story takes a rather predictable melodramatic twist, while the film’s inconsequential subplots do little to illuminate the film’s themes, and are ultimately simply frittered away. As for the actors, some casting is to type—Gandolfini in particular seems right at home in the role of philandering behemoth—while others are walking the tightrope without a net, sometimes to good result (Winslet is a blast), other times to disastrous effect (Walken is completely out of control here, while Mary-Louise Parker is criminally neglected in the supporting cast.)
Finally, as for the musical interludes themselves, in the tradition of musicals of old, the film lurches from one set piece to the next, with morsels of story and character development portioned out between. Given the narrative scarcity, the karaoke montages are put in the position of making or breaking Romance & Cigarettes, and one’s ability to enjoy the film resides almost completely upon how one responds to them as a whole. And ultimately, while there is a certain delightful novelty in watching as Bobby Cannavale and Aida Turturro tackle their musical numbers, the film is unable to sustain a consistent level of energy or cheekiness necessary to make us care about how the whole thing will turn out. Lastly, while trying to get a grip on this film--is it a comedy? A musical? A family drama? A wacky satire? A heartfelt homage to musicals of the days gone by? A little of each?—one is left with little choice but to peg Turturro, like the proverbial jack of all trades, as being the master of none.