Romance and Cigarettes is a trashy musical set in a working class New York suburb. The film focuses on the relationship between Nick Murder (James Gandolfini) and his wife Kitty (Susan Sarandon), and how Nick’s affair with lingerie saleswoman Tula (Kate Winslet) and his subsequent lung cancer affects their marriage.
More John Waters than Bill Condon, this is a crude, quirky and somewhat funny movie which focuses on the themes of marriage, adultery, sex, mortality and redemption. Writer / producer / director John Turturro seems to have drawn inspiration from the works of The Coen Brothers (who are executive producers), and Federico Fellini with the films surrealistic structure and the characters relationships with the Catholic Church. Regular Clint Eastwood cinematographer Tom Stern provides crisp, vibrant images.
Turturro’s characters are everyday people who treat life like it is one big karaoke machine, belting out contemporary classics whenever they feel the need to. Garbage men, nuns, housewives, and cops all join in on the fun.
However, there are also a number of eccentric characters. The Murder daughters (played by Many Moore, Mary Louise Parker and Aida Turturro) are a wonderfully weird bunch, who jam on a makeshift stage in their backyard, with Aida Turturro’s Rosebud in particular the strangest of the lot. There is also the widowed neighbour (Barbara Sukowa) and her flamboyant son Fryburg (Bobby Cannavale).
The songs are a varied and excellent selection, sung with normal (not trained) voices, while the choreography is neither tight nor flashy.
The films biggest draw is its impressive cast. Gandolfini and Sarandon are good, yet it is Kate Winslet as the filthy Irish nymph Tula and Christopher Walken as the tough talking Cousin Bo who steal the show. Both actors defy the conventions placed on them as elegant actress and creepy villain, and look like they are having fun whilst doing so.
While there is no denying its originality (it is the most unique film of its ilk I have ever seen), Romance and Cigarettes juts does not have enough soul in its bizarre exposition to really make an impact. Sure, it does make a hell of an impression, and there are a number on fun, memorable scenes. But there is just not enough depth to create a captivating whole, no hook to draw the viewer into its drab and gritty world and keep them there for the duration of the picture.
A unique watch, Turturro should be applauded for his vision and keeping with it till the end. The movie (originally released in 2005, yet withdrawn and delayed due to insufficient distribution) has finally been released to the general public on a limited run. Turturro financed the distribution himself, and is worth checking out.