I saw Romance & Cigarettes (2007) this weekend at a sold-out show – no wonder, because it’s only screening at one theater in New York. If you haven’t heard of the film, it’s John Turturro’s much-delayed baby, an absurdist sorta-musical (a la Moulin Rouge) that he wrote, directed and is currently self-distributing. Hopefully it’ll see wider release soon; it’s a gem of a movie.
In a role not so far emotionally removed from that of Tony Soprano, James Gandolfini plays Nick Murder, a chain-smoking construction worker with a big frame, black lungs and a weak heart – one that leads him into the arms and, well, vagina of Tula (a smoldering, sex-obsessed Kate Winslet, complete with fiery red hair). At one point, Tula tells Nick over the phone that she’s about to have sex with a man with an uncircumsized member; a few scenes later, the lug we still know as Tony gets whacked, in a manner of speaking. Oh, and they’re in the middle of a musical number while the doctor slices away. [Continue reading…]
Still, it’s the weighty Gandolfini’s straying-but-sympathetic husband that anchors a movie which often threatens to topple utterly into the ridiculous. Aside from the spontaneous bursts into song, there’s the perpetually pouty Mandy Moore in a hilarious (if not altogether unlikely – girl used to date Zach Braff) relationship with a guy who calls himself Fryberg and refers to himself only in the third person. Did I mention she plays bass guitar in a punk rock band with her two sisters? One of whom is Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds)? And all three of them live with their parents, Nick and Kitty (Susan Sarandon), despite not looking at all like teenagers? I suppose that’s more believable than the ever-reliable Christopher Walken as an Elvis-loving uncle, a performance that puts his, uh, star turn in this summer’s Balls of Fury to shame. Of all of them, I wish that Moore had a few more scenes. As Baby Murder, she is at once too glamorous to play the girl next door and too sweet to be anything but, which leaves her in a compelling grey area that the film toys with deliciously.
I can’t say that the songs (and accompanying choreography) aren’t the draw of the film, and there’s no denying the humor in the dream sequences that litter its first half: take Nick as Samson, eyes blacked out and shirtless, tugging at the chains of his backyard swing set. But it’s the movie’s gloomy, serious final act that brings things into focus, with the lens largely shifted by Gandolfini’s nuanced everyman charm. At the end, it becomes the very real story of a regular guy dealing with the world’s adversity, an unfortunate truth only made sadder and stranger by the fiction that proceeds it.
(And because this is our inaugural edition of Deeper Into Movies, our new film review column – there will be many more, promise – enjoy Yo La Tengo.)
Yo La Tengo – “Deeper into Movies”: mp3
Deeper Into Movies is a Yo La Tengo song and, in this case, a film review column. Click below for more.