Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com 11/9/08.
John Turturro is known to many for his work with the Coen Brothers in such films as Miller's Crossing, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, and O Brother, Where Art Thou? where he is considered to be one of their acting regulars. While Turturro has also worked frequently with Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and Spike Lee, he remains a devoted collaborator to the Coen Brothers. In 2005, Turturro turned to the Coen Brothers as producers for his third directorial feature in a musical-romance film entitled Romance & Cigarettes.
Written and directed by John Turturro with Joel and Ethan Coen serving as producers, Romance & Cigarettes tells the story of a working class husband whose life spins out of his control when his infidelity puts him into a moral crisis. Therefore, he has to choose between his wife and his seductive mistress while his three daughters are going against him following his affair with his mistress. Part romantic-comedy and part-musical with pop songs being the soundtrack, Turturro creates a film that is definitely in its own world.
With an all-star cast that includes James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Mandy Moore, Steve Buscemi, Aida Turturro, Mary-Louise Parker, Christopher Walken, Bobby Cannavale, Barbara Sukowa, Eddie Izzard, Elaine Stritch, Cady Huffman, Adam LaFerve, Amy Sedaris, and Kumar Pallana. Romance & Cigarettes is a whimsical, romantic-comedy, musical film from John Turturro and company.
Nicky Murder (James Gandolfini) had just got caught cheating on his wife Kitty (Susan Sarandon) due to a love letter she found to his mistress Tula (Kate Winslet). His three daughters Rosebud (Aida Turturro), Constance (Mary-Louise Parker), and Baby (Mandy Moore) are all siding with their mother as they refuse to help him or give him any good food. With no support in his own home, he confides in his buddy Angelo (Steve Buscemi) about his affairs as he reveals his attraction toward the red-headed, Scottish woman known as Tula. Kitty meanwhile, turns to her friend Gracie (Barbara Sukowa) as her son Fryburg (Bobby Cannavale) is already dating Baby as Kitty's daughters are part of his band. After some guidance from Father Gene Vincent (Eddie Izzard), Kitty calls her cousin Bo (Christopher Walken) for help in trying to find Tula.
Nicky meanwhile, hears about improvements in his sex life with Tula as he goes to a doctor (David Thornton) for help. Yet, his affair with Tula starts to turn sour due to her crazy demands while Kitty is now dealing with the engagement between Fryburg and Baby. With Kitty getting closer to find about Tula with help from Bo, who is still reeling from his own heartbreak with his wife Ro (Cady Huffman). Baby turns to Nicky for advice where it's clear that despite his differences with Kitty, Nicky seems to agree in what Kitty is thinking about the engagement. A health crisis suddenly hits Nicky while Kitty finally finds Tula as Nicky's mother (Elaine Stritch) reveals harsh revelations. Things gets more revealing during a fight with neighbors (Adam LaFarve and Amy Sedaris) that also makes Kitty think about their troubled marriage.
The film can be described as a lot of things. Yet overall, the genre-bending film with romance, comedy, drama, and as a musical reveals something that audiences can relate to in this story of love gone wrong, infidelity, and other family crises. John Turturro creates a film where the musical elements is more about what a character would do if life was a musical. The approach is that the music does come naturally and without the idea where it feels staged or contrived. While the film doesn't have a real plot, the story about this man trying to figure out his role while coming to terms with his infidelity.
The direction is superb in its staging, musical sequences, and locations where a lot of it is shot on location in New Jersey. The first two acts are very strong in this exploration of infidelity and a woman scorned as she tries to figure out who Tula is. Yet, the third act is uneven in its tone as the exuberance of the first two acts goes away. Though there's music is played, it's more intimate yet it does disrupt the entire tone of the film. Despite the flaws the film has, Turturro does create an interesting film that really bends a lot of genres.
Cinematographer Tom Stern, known for his work with Clint Eastwood, does some excellent work with his camera in capturing the daytime look of New Jersey in its exteriors along with some of greyish work in some of the film's urban locations. The interior shots of the Murders' home is wonderfully intimate with low lights while an amazing, fiery sequence with Kate Winslet has Stern's camera capturing the action with great lighting and wide shots. Editor Ray Hubley does some excellent work with the film's cutting to capture the rhythm of some of the film's exuberance musical sequences that is wonderfully energetic. Though the third act does have pacing issues near the end, Hubley's work is still excellent in capturing the emotion of that act.
Production/costume designer Donna Zakowska along with set decorator Elaine O'Donnell and art director Mario Ventenilla do great work in the look of the glam-like look of the hotel suite for a memorable dance sequence along with the look of New Jersey in all of its dirty yet blue-collar look. Zakowska also creating great costumes for the Murder daughters while the costumes that Kate Winslet wears including a read leathery dress is hot to complement her character. Sound designer Tod A. Maitland and editor Eliza Paley do great work with the location sounds and mixing for some of the musical sequences and such. Choreographer Tricia Brouk does great work for many of the film's choreography in the dance sequences that are theatrical as well as natural while Margie Gillis does an amazing dance sequence for a scene with Christopher Walken and Cady Huffman to the tune of Tom Jones' Delilah.
The music supervised by Chris Robertson is filled with songs by Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Bruce Springsteen, and others ranging from 1950s doo-wop music and 60s pop with the actors singing along to various songs as if people do that in real life. With three versions of Piece Of My Heart by Dusty Springfield, Janis Joplin, and Erma Franklin with Susan Sarandon singing along to one of them. The soundtrack includes Mandy Moore singing I Want Candy with other dance sequences to the music of Buena Vista Social Club for the fiery dance scene with Kate Winslet and another Winslet dance number to the tune of Vicky Carr's It Must Be Him. Other music by James Brown, Connie Francis, and Ute Lemper round out the soundtrack while James Gandolfini and Susan Sarandon do a quiet yet wonderful duet of The Girl I Marry.
The casting by Todd Thaler is excellent with John Turturro and real-life wife Katherine Borowitz serving their roles as dancers in one of the film's sequences. John's son Diego makes an appearance as a boy on a tricycle along with Diego's older brother Amedeo as a friend of Fryburg and John's mother Katherine as a choir singer. Yianni Digaletos plays a Greek lover of Bo's wife while Tonya Pinkins as a medic and P.J. Brown as a police officer each have a memorable moment as they also get a chance to sing. Tony Goldwyn makes an appearance as an old lover of Kitty. Kumar Pallana, known for his work with Wes Anderson, is great in a memorable appearance as a flower-card shop owner. Broadway star Cady Huffman is excellent as Bo's cheating wife while Adam LaFarve is good as a loudmouth neighbor. Amy Sedaris is funny as a loudmouth neighbor who likes to badmouth the Murder family. David Thornton is also good in his small role as a doctor Elaine Stritch is very good and funny as Nicky's mother who reveals some shocking stories.
British comedian Eddie Izzard is good as a preacher who brings guidance to Kitty in a wonderful musical sequence to Piece Of My Heart while Barbara Sukowa is funny as Fryburg's mother Gracie who pines for the first love of her life that she hopes return. Steve Buscemi is funny as Nicky's friend Angelo who brings some strange advice while giving his view on infidelity. Bobby Cannavale is great as Fryburg, a guy with a Teddy Bear hairdo who is filled with lots of charms and insults as he's a guy who isn't very smart but loveable. THE GREAT Christopher Walken is amazing as Bo, an oddball cousin who reveals the flaw of men while dealing with his own heartbreak as he helps out his cousin. Walken has scenes where it's clear, he's a natural to the musical sequences as he's having fun and just stealing some moments when he's dancing and singing along to Tom Jones' Delilah.
Aida Turturro, Mary-Louise Parker, and Mandy Moore are great as the three daughters who revolt against their father. Turturro gets to be the more talkative of the trio with Parker being the quiet yet more musical trio of the daughter. Moore gets more to do as her character deals with the idea of marriage while proving she can sing rock. Susan Sarandon is great as Kitty, the scorned woman trying to find the mistress while pondering on why she fell in love with Nicky. Kate Winslet is brilliant as Tula, the fiery Scottish woman that is very sexy and a presence that is dynamic. Sporting a Scottish brogue, Winslet's performance is truly sensational as she just commands every scene she's in along with her dance sequence making her completely bonafide. James Gandolfini is excellent as Nicky Murder, a man trying to ponder his role while seeing whether he should go to his mistress or try to get forgiveness from his wife. It's a performance from Gandolfini that isn't seen much yet proves that he's a solid actor outside of his work from The Sopranos.
While it's not a great film, Romance & Cigarettes is still a very good film that has a lot of redeeming qualities and musical numbers under the vision of John Turturro. Thanks to a great cast and amazing musical numbers, it's a film that is entertaining despite its flaws. This film had the unfortunate of going through distributions problems when in 2006, United Artists and MGM was bought by Sony which led to a legal mess forcing Turturro to distribute the film himself to a small audience. This is a film that should be seen for anyone that likes musicals or romantic comedies as in the end, Romance & Cigarettes is a film that's worth your time in its entertainment factor thanks to the vision of John Turturro.
(C) thevoid99 2011