Reviews

Romance & Cigarettes

Turturro has filled the screen with plenty of song, dance, and sex talk, but this is not your typical love story.


Romance & Cigarettes

Director: John Turturro
Cast: James Gandolfini, Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker
Distributor: Sony
MPAA rating: N/A
Studio: MGM
First date: 2006
US DVD Release Date: 2008-02-12
Website

John Turturro has been plotting this unusual musical film ever since starring in Barton Fink back in 1991. The Coen Brothers, who ably directed Turturro in that film, are also the producers behind Romance & Cigarettes, which has more to do with cheating & one smoking hot babe, than with love & tobacco products.

James Gandolfini plays Nick Murder, who becomes the unlikely romantic interest of hottie Tula (Kate Winslet). But Gandolfini is also married to Kitty (Susan Sarandon), who is having nothing of Murder’s affair. The meat of this film’s plot bounces back and forth between Nick/Tula love scenes, and Nick/Kitty arguments. But whenever Murder is not with one of the two women in his life, he’s receiving sex “advice” (most of it bad) from Steve Buscemi’s hilarious Angelo character. Kitty, on the other hand, most often confides in Christopher Walken’s equally funny Cousin Bo.

Romance & Cigarettes is also a musical. But it’s nothing like, say, a familiar Julie Andrews vehicle. Instead, these actors sing a lot of songs, whether they’re naturally gifted with vocal skills or not. On the one hand, Sarandon fairs surprisingly well with Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”, while Gandolfini won’t make you forget Englebert Humperdinck as he struggles through “A Man without Love”. Walken excels with “Delilah”, mainly because he’s such a smooth dancer and a downright pleasure to watch. Although big, blubbery love songs mostly comprise this soundtrack, Mandy Moore, Aida Turturro and Mary-Louise Parker also offer up a girly rock band version of “I Want Candy”.

Despite its colorful Fellini-esque visual elements, Romance & Cigarettes is, in the end, a relatively generic love story. Gandolfini’s loose Murder portrayal comes nowhere close to the character complexity he memorably brought to Tony Soprano. Furthermore, we never learn why his Murder character strayed from Kitty or what attracted Tula to the blue collar Murder in the first place. There is a lot of generalizing about partnerships, make-ups and break-ups, yet little detail concerning what makes these various characters tick. And that’s a shame because Turturro wastes a wonderful cast; one that could surely have turned this experiment into something truly special.

As for the film's title, well, Gandolfini’s character is diagnosed with lung cancer toward the film’s end so, perhaps, cigarettes symbolize the dire consequences of cheating. Sex, like nicotine, is pleasurable and addicting at first, but it can also kill you if you let it control you – that kind of thing. Even so, Murder’s dalliance with Tula never appears to be worth the risk. She doesn’t fill a need that's missing in his life. In fact, Kitty comes off nearly faultless and hardly the kind of woman most men would even consider kicking to the curb for a younger model.

This release’s special features are few but significant. For instance, I love the way Turturro introduces each and every deleted scene. With most cinematic DVD packages, deleted scenes are strung together in a bonus section, with little rhyme or reason. But not here; Turturro explains his thinking behind leaving out particular scenes, primarily because he simply decided to go in a different direction. This personal approach gives insight into the director’s mind when editing a picture. There is also a brief documentary titled “Making a Homemade Musical”, where some of the stars describe this movie unique making experience.

When you add it all up, Romance & Cigarettes is an ambitious failure. Granted, it’s not as bad as Cop Rock and Laughlin, to name two extremely poor TV attempts at mixing music with drama. But then again, this new film is nowhere close to the greatness that is West Side Story. It’s a good concept, but alas, lacks successful execution.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

Run the Jewels - "Ooh LA LA" (Singles Going Steady)

Run the Jewels' "Ooh LA LA" may hit with old-school hip-hop swagger, but it also frustratingly affirms misogynistic bro-culture.

Books

New Translation of Balzac's 'Lost Illusions' Captivates

More than just a tale of one man's fall, Balzac's Lost Illusions charts how literature becomes another commodity in a system that demands backroom deals, moral compromise, and connections.

Music

Protomartyr - "Processed by the Boys" (Singles Going Steady)

Protomartyr's "Processed By the Boys" is a gripping spin on reality as we know it, and here, the revolution is being televised.

Music

Go-Go's Bassist Kathy Valentine Is on the "Write" Track After a Rock-Hard Life

The '80s were a wild and crazy time also filled with troubles, heartbreak and disappointment for Go-Go's bass player-guitarist Kathy Valentine, who covers many of those moments in her intriguing dual project that she discusses in this freewheeling interview.

Music

New Brain Trajectory: An Interview With Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree

Two guitarists, Lee Ranaldo and Raül Refree make an album largely absent of guitar playing and enter into a bold new phase of their careers. "We want to take this wherever we can and be free of genre restraints," says Lee Ranaldo.

Books

'Trans Power' Is a Celebration of Radical Power and Beauty

Juno Roche's Trans Power discusses trans identity not as a passageway between one of two linear destinations, but as a destination of its own.

Music

Yves Tumor Soars With 'Heaven to a Tortured Mind'

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.

Music

Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras' tētēma Don't Hit the Mark on 'Necroscape'

tētēma's Necroscape has some highlights and some interesting ambiance, but ultimately it's a catalog of misses for Mike Patton and Anthony Pateras.

Music

M. Ward Offers Comforting Escapism on 'Migration Stories'

Although M. Ward didn't plan the songs on Migration Stories for this pandemic, they're still capable of acting as a balm in these dark hours.

Music

Parsonsfield Add Indie Pop to Their Folk on 'Happy Hour on the Floor'

Happy Hour on the Floor is a considerable departure from Parsonsfield's acclaimed rustic folk sound signaling their indie-pop orientation. Parsonsfield remind their audience to bestow gratitude and practice happiness: a truly welcomed exaltation.

Music

JARV IS... - "House Music All Night Long" (Singles Going Steady)

"House Music All Night Long" is a song our inner, self-isolated freaks can jive to. JARV IS... cleverly captures how dazed and confused some of us may feel over the current pandemic, trapped in our homes.

Music

All Kinds of Time: Adam Schlesinger's Pursuit of Pure, Peerless Pop

Adam Schlesinger was a poet laureate of pure pop music. There was never a melody too bright, a lyrical conceit too playfully dumb, or a vibe full of radiation that he would shy away from. His sudden passing from COVID-19 means one of the brightest stars in the power-pop universe has suddenly dimmed.

Music

Folkie Eliza Gilkyson Turns Up the Heat on '2020'

Eliza Gilkyson aims to inspire the troops of resistance on her superb new album, 2020. The ten songs serve as a rallying cry for the long haul.

Music

Human Impact Hit Home with a Seismic First Album From a Veteran Lineup

On their self-titled debut, Human Impact provide a soundtrack for this dislocated moment where both humanity and nature are crying out for relief.

Music

Monophonics Are an Ardent Blast of True Rock 'n' Soul on 'It's Only Us'

The third time's the charm as Bay Area soul sextet Monophonics release their shiniest record yet in It's Only Us.

Film

'Slay the Dragon' Is a Road Map of the GOP's Methods for Dividing and Conquering American Democracy

If a time traveler from the past wanted to learn how to subvert democracy for a few million bucks, gerrymandering documentary Slay the Dragon would be a superb guide.

Music

Bobby Previte / Jamie Saft / Nels Cline: Music from the Early 21st Century

A power-trio of electric guitar, keyboards, and drums takes on the challenge of free improvisation—but using primarily elements of rock and electronica as strongly as the usual creative music or jazz. The result is focused.

Books

Does Inclusivity Mean That Everyone Does the Same Thing?

What is the meaning of diversity in today's world? Russell Jacoby raises and addresses some pertinent questions in his latest work, On Diversity.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.