' Cinema Romantico: Romance & Cigarettes

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Romance & Cigarettes

Every once in a great while I experience a moment where two of my great true loves converge at the same instant. Examples: earlier this year when Bruce Springsteen and the founding members of The Arcade Fire shared the stage, or the moment on "Seinfeld" when Jerry quotes Hawkeye from "Last of the Mohicans", or the moment when a girl with whom I was madly in love suddenly and entirely of her own valition spouted a line from "O Brother Where Art Thou" that a group of my friends and I once upon a time quoted incessantly. These moments are awesome, surreal, sorta' like the crossing of wires in "Ghostbusters". And midway through John Turturro's long-delayed, badly reviewed "Romance & Cigarettes" there comes a moment when.....ah, but you didn't think I'd give it away at the beginning of the review, did you?

Where the hell to begin with this movie? What words could be used to sum it up? Unfocused? All over the place (and then some)? Insane? Yes, you could use those, but you could also call it brazen. And joyful. And fearless - very, very fearless.

Plot synopsis, you say? Uh....Nick (James Gandolfini) is married to Kitty (Susan Sarandon) but having an affair with Tula (the one, the only Kate Winslet). I guess that would do it but, no, it really wouldn't. See, because once Kitty's learned of this affair she gets into an over-the-top shouting match with Nick - her three daughters lending support - and then Nick strolls out onto the street and erupts into song & dance. And to deal with the pain Kitty heads on over to the church and she and the choir bust out into a blistering rendition of "Piece of My Heart". What the movie does, you must understand, is not just have the actors sing their own versions of these songs but have the real songs themselves playing on the soundtrack while the actors sing along with them. I mean, this is great! Who among us has not in a moment of happiness or sadness or somewhere in that deadly, dreadful middle ground cranked a tune we love and sung along with it as a means to cope? And if you're dancing along to the song as you sing it, you're probably not dancing that well and that's because you're just a regular person and, well, you can't dance. You're just doing your best, damn it.

Plot? Story? The emergence of a character only to have that same character pretty much vanish with little to no explanation? Hey, if you wanna' piss and moan about that kinda' crap then just avoid the movie, okay? If you don't mind about that trivial nonsense and you want to see a movie pulsating with vim, vigor, life, passion, fervor, great music, etc. etc. etc. then.....well, you'll probably have to Netflix it. My city is lucky as hell it got this thing to come here, after all.

The cast list is extraordinary but merely seeing the names of the actors ain't gonna' cut it. You've gotta' understand what John Turturro as director has these people doing. Take Mary Louise Parker, for instance, as the punk-rock daughter of James Gandolfini. Or Eddie Izzard as the choir director at the local church. Or Christopher Walken as Cousin Bo who is possibly at his weirdest ever, and I mean that. ("She was my first true love. I traced her name in cow shit." Yes, that really is one of his lines.) Or Elaine Stritch - currently playing the mother of Alec Baldwin's character on "30 Rock" - as James Gandolfini's mother. She's pretty much the same as she is on "30 Rock" but then don't forget that this movie was shot well before "30 Rock" came into existence. Hell, even that one guy that always turns up in every Wes Anderson movie (Pagoda, from "The Royal Tennenbaums") is in this thing.

After last night I can once again proudly proclaim I've seen every Kate Winslet movie ever made and I can also say it was the first movie in which I ever saw her eating fried chicken in bed and singing a song underwater. This thing's madness - sheer madness, I tell you!

How can a movie like this - a movie so original, so unwilling to compromise about what it is - sit on the shelf for two years while a new installment of "Saw" is released every single cotton pickin' halloween? How??? This movie is bold. This movie has balls. This movie wants to be something. Is it something? More often than not, it is.

This movie has a moment - I'm coming full circle now - when Kate Winslet, my favorite actress in the whole wide world, engages in a nasty catfight set to Bruce Springsteen's "Red Headed Woman". Yup, this is one hell of a movie - one hell of a movie for a person like me.

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