Saturday, February 16, 2008

Romance and Cigarettes. Out now. (*******7/10)

When I rented Romance and Cigarettes, I did so because of the cast and director. John Turturro directed this film, and it stars James Gandolfini, Kate Winslett, Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, Mandy Moore, Eddie Izzard, and two of my favourites - Steve Buscemi and Christopher Walken. Based on that cast alone, I picked it up and watched it. So imagine my surprise when James Gandolfini, in the first scene, Tony Soprano, began to sing. Yes, Romance and Cigarettes is a musical! A bonkers, insane, weirdly entertaining musical. Everyone sings, and the musical numbers feel unnecessary, but they are the most entertaining part of the film. The basic premise is that Gandolfini is married to Sarandon, but cheating on her with the much-younger Kate Winslett, who has never looked sexier in a movie. Sarandon catches him, and effectively ends their relationship, which has an effect on the children (Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker and Aida Turturro - who plays Ton'y sister on The Sopranos...weird).

Gandolfini's character is named Nick Murder, a strange name, and he comes off as a modern, filthier Ralph Kramden. His buddy at work, Steve Buscemi, is a modern, much filthier Ed Norton. Every character is a bizarre weirdo, and they each have twisted and strange relationships with each other. And the movie is filthy. There is a weird but effective scene where Winslett talks to Gandolfini in an incredibly dirty phone call while Sarandon sings Janis Joplin's Piece of My Heart. Christopher Walken, as "cousin Bo" (of course) has several of the best scenes, including a demented take on My Delilah, which ends with him using a knife to stab his wife, then singing into that knife as though it is a microphone. He is one of the strangest of the cast, in that he talks almost exclusively in movie lines and song titles. Mandy Moore's creepy take on the song "I Want Candy" is mercifully cut short.

Overall, Romance And Cigarettes is fun and exuberant while still being tragic and sad. There are parts that are downright gloomy, which sort of takes away from the more entertaining moments. But watching these terrific actors, especially Walken, do their thing is more than enough reason to rent this film. It is not perfect, or even great, but it is more than enough fun for a Sunday afternoon.

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