Singing ‘Bout Luv
Messy but beautiful
BY MOLLY TEMPLETON
ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES: Written and directed by John Turturro. Executive producers, Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Susan Sarandon, James Gandolfini, Kate Winslet, Steve Buscemi, Mary-Louise Parker, Christopher Walken, Mandy Moore and Aida Turturro. United Artists, 2007. R. 105 minutes.
John Turturro’s crazy quilt of a film has been lingering in distribution limbo for years, so don’t be put off by the fact that you might not have heard much about this one recently. It’s not perfect, and it’s not for everyone, sure, but those with a taste for the slightly absurd will find plenty to be charmed by in this story of a working-class Queens family that appears to be imploding under the strain of Kitty’s (Susan Sarandon) discovery of Nick’s (James Gandolfini) infidelity. (His mistress, Tula, is played by a voluptuous, redheaded, foul-mouthed and wonderful Kate Winslet.) But really, it seems like the Murder family must always have been in a state of implosion, what with three slightly kooky daughters — peculiar and kind Rosebud (Aida Turturro); Constance (Mary-Louise Parker), who is anything but constant; and Baby (Mandy Moore), who’s just too sweet — and a neighborhood full of oddballs, including Christopher Walken as the peculiar Cousin Bo (his car’s name? Candida). To get their tumultuous feelings out, these folks all frequently burst into song.
But Romance and Cigarettes isn’t a regular old musical; it’s more like fantastical karaoke with the stars’ voices layered over recognizable tunes. Sarandon belts out “Piece of My Heart” with a church choir led by Eddie Izzard (if that alone doesn’t make you laugh, this might not be a film for you) and the daughters rock “I Want Candy.” Characters’ imaginations and fantasies come to life during musical numbers, but not always — though when they do, it’s to good effect. Turturro’s talented cast is capable of handling the songs and his quirky dialogue (choice terms include “fuck bloomers” and “whoremaster”) while gently communicating the complexities of family (and other) relationships with crooked eyebrows or half-smiles. While Kitty and Nick spend a good part of the film hurt and avoiding each other, their grounded, core relationship is steadily there, apparent in the turbulent connections between parents and children. Vivid, bawdy, surreal, Romance and Cigarettes is a little bit of a mess, but it’s an audacious, entertaining and — of all things — touching mash-up of genres and styles. What a giddy break from the norm.
Romance and Cigarettes opens Friday, Dec. 21, at the Bijou.