Romance And Cigarettes
|James Gandolfini||Nick Murder|
|Susan Sarandon||Kitty Kane|
|Directed by||John Turturro|
In a season seasoned with off-beat originality in the movies, from Lars and the Real Girl to I’m Not There, you still have not seen anything quite like John Turturro’s extraordinary Romance and Cigarettes. And it will be quite a while before you do. Imagine a cross-pollination of The Sopranos with Everyone Says I Love You, and you’ll get an inkling.
This movie has nothing to do with the mob, but it stars James Gandolfini as a Queens bridge maintenance worker named Nick Murder who has a sex life that resembles some of Tony Soprano’s subplots. Nick’s day starts off badly when his wife Kitty (Susan Sarandon) discovers a love poem to a cherished part of his mistress’s anatomy in one of his pockets. She dresses him down in no uncertain terms, backed up by her “army” of three grown daughters, played by Mary Louise Parker, Aida Turturro, and Mandy Moore.
So far, some funny stuff. Then the picture steps off the edge into the sublime. As Engelbert Humperdick’s “Lonely Is a Man Without Love” swells on the soundtrack, Nick walks outside to brood and have a smoke, and then bursts into song. He twirls off the porch and sings along with the soundtrack, as does everyone in the neighborhood, from the garbage men to a women’s softball team.
So it’s a musical, but it’s the kind of music we all make when we’re singing along with the car radio or letting go with a tune in the shower. And it’s hilarious, and exhilarating, because it conjures up the tunes that score our lives. A lot of the music is cheesy in the extreme – Engelbert Humperdinck surely fits that category – but that doesn’t matter. There is an exuberance to all of it, and when it gets to a ripping rendition of “Take Another Little Piece of My Heart” belted out to the Dusty Springfield recording by Susan Sarandon and a church choir led by Eddie Izzard, you’ll almost forget Janis Joplin.
Nick and Kitty have been married forever, and they live with their daughters, crowded into a small house on a street in Queens in the shadow of the airport. Nick’s escape is Tula (Kate Winslet), a good-hearted, gutter-mouthed, sexually pliant clerk in a lingerie store. Other characters who populate their lives are Kitty’s first love (Tony Goldwyn), her Cousin Bo (Christoper Walken), an Elvis-emulating icon of cool, and Fryburg (Bobby Cannavale), the boy who is in love with the youngest daughter and sings with the girls’ rock ‘n roll band in the back yard. On Nick’s side of the aisle there’s his best pal and bridge-working partner Angelo (Steve Buscemi), who advises him on matters of life and love. And there’s his mother (Elaine Stritch), who comes to see him in the hospital after he undergoes a circumcision (don’t ask) and gives him an unforgettable lecture that ranges from advice about women (“I told you in the sixth grade, never tell a woman your business!”) to a verdict on him, his father, and his grandfather (“Three generations of whoremasters.”).
The roster of actors in this movie is enviable, and you will never see any of them having a better time. There are many more moments that deserve attention than there is space to describe them, but you could go just to see Chris Walken chewing up the scenery to the Tom Jones song “Delilah” and you would not come away unsatisfied. The movie gets sentimental, it gets sad, and it certainly has its ups and downs, but it never lets you down for long before it comes roaring back.
Turturro began writing this movie on the set of the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink, when he taught himself to type in order to get into the character of a writer. He began with the note “Two things: a man should be able to be romantic and be able to smoke his brains out." He originally tried to get Bruce Springsteen for the role of Nick. He shot the film a couple of years ago, but the picture never made it beyond the festival circuit due to a combination of bad luck (studios changing hands) and executive timidity (there is a lot of language in this movie you would not want your Aunt Minnie to hear, even after a few drinks). There has also been a fair difference of critical opinion, with some reviewers ecstatic (“One of the most magical films of the 2005 festival season,” says Roger Ebert; “The most original picture by an American director I've seen this year, and also the most delightful,” according to Salon) and others lukewarm or scornful.
So Turturro decided to distribute it himself. He opened it at the Film Forum in New York on his own dime this fall, and it was a big hit. It has been a big hit in Europe. It may never play the Mall of America, but it’s here, and we can be thankful for that.
© Text 2007 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be