Romance & Cigarettes
R1 - America - Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: James Teitelbaum (1st March 2008).
The Film

Back in the early 1980's, someone said: "wouldn't it be amazing to get most of Mel Brooks' usual cast (say, Madeline Kahn, Peter Boyle, and Marty Feldman) to be in a movie with half of the Monty Python gang (let's call it Eric Idle, Graham Chapman, and John Cleese), and while we're at it let's throw in Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong into the mix, plus Nigel Planer (Neil the Hippie from "The Young Ones" (1982-1984))? Well, guess what: they did. It's called "Yellowbeard" (1983). And for an encore, they talked David freakin' Bowie into doing a cameo, and then they got Spike Milligan, Peter Cook, Susannah York, and James Mason to show up too. So why have you never heard of it? Well, mostly because, even with all of this talent (and this is a lot of talent), someone left all of the jokes at home. I know it seems impossible, but this movie just isn't funny. At all.
Some twenty-five years later, I am reminded of "Yellowbeard" by John Turturro's new indie film, "Romance & Cigarettes". Turturro has always been an honest and appealing actor, burning up the screen in a bunch of Joel and Ethan Coen classics such as "Miller's Crossing" (1990) and "Barton Fink" (1991) as well as in some of Spike Lee's work, and in many other films. "Romance & Cigarettes" (2005) is his third effort at stepping onto the other side of the camera as a writer/director (the others were "Mac" in 1992 and "Illuminata" in 1998). To make his New Jersey-based blue-collar musical, Turturro enlisted a great cast (including James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Steve Buscemi, Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker, Christopher Walken, Eddie Izzard, and Amy Sedaris) and a great production team including Joel and Ethan Coen as executive producers.
So somehow, even with all of this talent, "Romance & Cigarettes" fails to deliver. It pains me to have to look at this film, which was obviously a labor of love for Turturro, and to have to report that it never really gels.
The story is about a married couple (Sarandon and Gandolfini as Kitty and Nick Murder) who are having some marital issues. The aging construction worker Nick has taken on a mistress. She is a fiery Irish redhead, half his age, who works in a lingerie shop and who appears to genuinely like him. Kitty, also a redhead who isn't completely without passion, finds out about the affair and goes ballistic. Kitty and Nick have three daughters, who play in a rock band together, and who all side with mom.
The idea here is that this premise will be taken off into all sorts of wacky directions by making it a musical, and by having all of the actors break into songs at unexpected moments (usually lip-syncing or even singing on top of classic soul and rat pack-era stuff). Admittedly, the idea of seeing firemen and steel workers dancing in the streets of New Jersey has some potential for entertainment. The problem is that the performances are universally stiff, the story and dialogue is poorly written, the pacing is very uneven, and the songs never really integrate well into the rest of the movie.
The film drags on for the first ninety minutes, and then as the running time winds down, a completely unexpected plot twist takes the film into a dark and somewhat contrived direction. Even after this twist unfolds, Kitty stalwartly refuses to reconcile with Nick. In need of a resolution to the story, Sarandon jumps out of character at a random moment, and the film ends with viewers wondering just how someone as clearly intelligent and talented as Turturro could let us down so severely.
Within the bonus features, Turturro addresses the camera directly, and talks with great enthusiasm for a film that he clearly enjoyed making. As someone who respects his talent, it is sad to have to warn readers to avoid this film.

Video

"Romance & Cigarettes" is presented in the 2.25:1 widescreen aspect ratio, enhanced for widescreen televisions. The running time of 1:45:59 is divided into 28 scenes. The interiors of the house of Murder are a bit cramped and fairly dim, so grain is usually evident. The movie is both cleaner and more visually appealing during some of the exterior scenes, such as the shots of Gandolfini and Buscemi working on a bridge, as well as in some of the choreography sequences. There is a grey cast the movie, which is appropriate to the working class tone of the piece.

Audio

English Dolby Digital 5.1 is included with subtitle options that include English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, for the feature, and Spanish and Portuguese for the commentary. The balance between songs and dialogue is fine, but it is a bit odd when the actors voices are heard singing on top of previously recorded Engelbert Humperdinck or Tom Jones songs, as if they're singing along to an unseen radio just off camera. Perhaps this is meant to be the case.

Extras

Sony has included an audio commentary, an introduction, a featurette, deleted scenes and a series of bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

An audio commentary is included with director John Turturro and actor (also son of John) Amedeo Turturro. The track is interesting in that the director has his son in the studio with him, and the two chat amiably about the making of the movie. Amedeo plays an extra in the film, but was otherwise not really involved. When not conversing with his son, John points out what he felt worked and didn't work in the film, as well as dishing the usual anecdotes about the making of the film.

Next is an introduction by the film's director John Turturro and runs for 2 minutes 56 seconds and has the director addressing the camera from within an audio recording studio.

"Making a Home Made Musical" runs for12 minutes 6 seconds and is your standard documentary featurette. Behind-the-scenes footage is juxtaposed with an audio telephone interview with Sarandon.

7 deleted scenes on this disc feature an introduction by the film's director John Turturro, and include:

- "Nick and Angelo Under Bridge" runs for 4 minutes 1 second; Buscemi and Gandolfini chat while on their jobs.
- "Aida's Dream Come True" runs for 2 minutes 33 seconds; Aida fantasizes about a lover who then materializes.
- "Driving Lesson" runs for 3 minutes 22 seconds; Gandolfini and his daughter discuss her boyfriend.
- "Flower Shop" runs for 1 minute; Walken and Sarandon discuss going to a lingerie shop.
- "Nightmare" runs for 2 minutes 27 seconds; Gandolfini looks out the window after a bad dream.
- "Post Surgery" runs for 1 minute 47 seconds; Gandolfini's daughters visit him after his surgery.
- "Talking To Dummy" runs for 1 minute 5 seconds; Walken talks to a mannequin in an ad-libbed scene.

The final extra is a collection of bonus trailers in a gallery that include:

- "Coming to Blu-ray" spot which runs for 33 seconds.
- "Slipstream" which runs for 2 minutes 16 seconds.
- "Revolver" which runs for 2 minutes 33 seconds.
- "The Good Night" which runs for 2 minutes 45 seconds.
- "Southland Tales" which runs for 2 minutes 33 seconds.
- "The Nines" which runs for 2 minutes 24 seconds.
- "Goya's Ghosts" which runs for 2 minutes 30 seconds.
- "Damages: Season 1" which runs for 1 minute 36 seconds.
- "Across the Universe" which runs for 33 seconds.
- "Saawariya" which runs for 1 minute 50 seconds.

Overall

The Film: F Video: B Audio: B Extras: B Overall: C-

 


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