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

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.


The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less

'Foxtrot' Is a 'Catch-22' for Our Time

Giora Bejach in Fox Trot (2017 / IMDB)

Samuel Maoz's philosophical black comedy is a triptych of surrealism laced with insights about warfare and grief that are both timeless and timely.

There's no rule that filmmakers need to have served in the military to make movies about war. Some of the greatest war movies were by directors who never spent a minute in basic (Coppola, Malick). Still, a little knowledge of the terrain helps. A filmmaker who has spent time hugging a rifle on watch understands things the civilian never can, no matter how much research they might do. With a director like Samuel Maoz, who was a tank gunner in the Israeli army and has only made two movies in eight years, his experience is critical.

Keep reading... Show less

South Pole Station is an unflinching yet loving look at family in all its forms.

The typical approach of the modern debut novel is to grab its audience's attention, to make a splash of the sort that gets its author noticed. This is how you get a book deal, this is how you quickly draw an audience -- books like Fight Club, The Kite Runner, even Harry Potter each went out of their way to draw in an audience, either through a defined sense of language, a heightened sense of realism, or an instant wash of wonder. South Pole Station is Ashley Shelby's debut, and its biggest success is its ability to take the opposite approach: rather than claw and scream for its reader's attention, it's content to seep into its reader's consciousness, slowly drawing that reader into a world that's simultaneously unfamiliar and totally believable.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.