After sitting on a shelf for two years, John Turturro’s Romance & Cigarettes, a boldly quirky comedy-drama-musical about a fractured marriage in working-class Queens, has danced its way into limited release. If you’re game for something different, it’s worth a few giggles.
Inspired by British dramatist Dennis Potter, whose The Singing Detective had actors lip-synching to songs that conveyed their characters’ feelings, R&C is even loopier in its colorful crudeness and its outrageously silly choreography.
James Gandolfini plays Nick Murder, a bridge worker whose wife, Kitty (Susan Sarandon), intercepts a salacious love note from his mistress, Tula (Kate Winslet). The emotional blowouts that follow are both acted out and relayed in song and dance.
Nick takes to the street in front of his small frame house and is joined by garbage collectors as they all sing over Engelbert Humperdinck’s A Man Without Love. Winslet’s hilariously tart Tula is introduced in a flame-colored gown to the music of the Buena Vista Social Club’s El Cuarto de Tula. And Christopher Walken, as the Elvis wanna-be who helps Kitty locate Nick’s girlfriend, arrives on the lyrical wings of Elvis’ “Trouble”.
A Cyndi Lauper song is played behind a montage of dancing pregnant women and the outpatient circumcision of Nick, whose scream merges with Lauper’s on the “I’m” in “I’m just a prisoner of love”. The story is rudimentary: Wife catches husband; wife punishes husband; husband seeks redemption. But getting through the cycle is like riding a roller coaster through a fun house. And everybody is in on the joke.
The large cast includes Mandy Moore, Aida Turturro and Mary-Louise Parker as Nick’s confounded children, Elaine Stritch as his scolding mother and Steve Buscemi as the co-worker loaded with bad advice. Turturro drops the music and the jokes for a soap-opera ending that doesn’t match the rest of the movie, but getting there is a gas.
Romance & Cigarettes HHÂ½ Fair Rated: R (language, sexual content) Starring: James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon Directed by: John Turturro Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes Playing at: UPST
Romance & Cigarettes **1/2
Directed by John Turturro. With James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Steve Buscemi, Bobby Cannavale, Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker, and Christopher Walken. Distributed by MGM. 1 hour, 55 mins.R(sexuality, profanity). Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse
“Two, two things a man should know how to do,” insists Nick Murder (James Gandolfini). That’s him, the Brooklyn mug, up there welding the bridge that connects his borough, where he lives with his wife, to Manhattan, where he loves with his mistress. The sparks are flying, both from Nick’s welding torch and from his loins.
According to the man at the naked and palpitating heart of John Turturro’s enjoyable folly Romance & Cigarettes, a man should know how to “Be romantic and smoke his brains out”. For his auburn-haired wife, Kitty (Susan Sarandon), Nick should be more romantic with her and not at all with Tula (Kate Winslet), his flame-haired mistress.
In the spirit of Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective, Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You, Turturro’s folly is an all-singing, all-dancing fantasia of high-infidelity, set to songs by Janis Joplin, Connie Francis and Tom Jones.
When the inarticulate Nick struggles to express what’s in his heart, he lurches into song, wailing along with Engelbert Humperdinck on “Lonely Is a Man Without Love”. Ears pricked by Nick’s Brooklyn love call, the neighborhood garbagemen circle around him in an impromptu chorus line.
Supported by a superb cast that includes Elaine Stritch, Christopher Walken and Steve Buscemi, Gandolfini is compulsively watchable as the blue-collar Tony Soprano with women trouble. Romance & Cigarettes is lewd and it’s lurid and looks to be a lost pop opera, but it has more vitality than anything else out there.
– Carrie Rickey
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer