It's hard to describe `Romance and Cigarettes' without sounding weird or schmaltzy, but it's a rock solid romantic comedy that's driven by its offbeat dialogue and characters. Produced by the Coen Brothers, but directed and written by veteran actor John Turturro, the film still feels like a Coen Brothers' venture if they made musical comedies, which, partly, they do.
To give you a flavor of the movie, it starts off with Constance Murder (Mary-Louise Parker) walking up to her unfaithful father, Nick (James Gandolfini, 'The Sopranos') who's asleep on the couch in their modest NY suburban home, snoring away like a slow moving saw. Her arms are akimbo and her face sports disapproval, yet she seems to show compassion as the mounting evidence comes in for yet another mistress and another affair, which is written all over her face. She walks up to him and puts her lit cigarette between his toes. She walks out of the room, and after a pregnant pause, we hear him yell out in pain.
His daughters are on mom, (Susan Sarandon) Katie Murder's side, so she's really wronged in a one-sided way. She wears her anguish on her sleeve and in song (as she reconnects with her local Catholic church choir.) One of the best scenes is when they wiggle and grind through a steamy rendition of "Take Another Piece of My Heart". (You know, the one Janis Joplin made so famous). One of her daughters has all the looks she may have lost, is in a rock band, and is steady with her dancer boyfriend (Duck-tail flamboyant Bobby Cannavale) who also co-fronts the band.
On his way to work, Nick sings along with the soundtrack, so his voice absurdly blends in Karaoke style with Engelbert Humperdinck's "A Man Without Love" in a lavishly choreographed neighborhood scene. The juxtaposition of fantasy with mundane reality must be a Hollywood trend, for I kept thinking of `Across the Universe' here or `Enchanted' and `Hairspray'. Yet, it would be unfair for me to keep those connections too strong here, for I felt like I was watching something uniquely sublime and daffy.
There isn't really much of plot, per se, except for the ramifications of his British adulterous interest (Kate Winslet), but the character study is enough to keep the pages turning. Nick is able to confide with fellow hardhat Angelo (Steve Buscemi) whose lecherous confessions on the job are both grim and practical, and Katie relies on her quirky cousin (Christopher Walken) to boost her spirits and keep her sense of purpose in life.
Much like the aforementioned films, `Romance and Cigarettes' uses musical comedy to rise about the dingy skylines and heart rending realities with some fun fantasies that both escape one's lot in life and process the wounds. I'd say after all is said and done, this is a fun and colorful film that is a real pleasure to watch.
(Happy belated Valentine's Day!)