What can you expect from Romance and Cigarettes? If Roger Ebert’s quote on the cover is to be believed, you can expect “The Real Thing!” and that it will be “Magical!” and “Exhilarating!”. I’m not mocking Ebert’s words by any means, though I’m curious what he means exactly by “The Real Thing!”; could it be the films effortless nature to switch between drama, comedy and song from one sequence to another? If so Ebert hit it right on the head: this film is certainly the real thing.
After Kitty (Suan Sarandon) finds out that Nick (James Gandolfini) is cheating on her with a seductive woman named Tula (Kate Winslet), their already shaky marriage is slowly torn down further. Despite his denials, Nick continues to see Tula as Kitty enlists her brother Bo (Christopher Walken) to find the woman named Tula. After everything is discovered and laid out for all to see, including Nick and Kitty’s three daughters (Mary-Louise Parker, Mandy Moore and Aida Turturro), it’s only then that they discover that there’s something that will bring them all back together.
I must say I was taken aback by the film at first. I didn’t realize it was a musical and once I did I was slightly confused as to how a movie with James Gandolfini in the role could be a musical. It quickly became evident, however, that writer and director John Turturro took what is essentially a lighter tone of The Sopranos (what you expect me not to compare this to that? Two of the actors from the show appear in this film within minutes of it turning on!) and threw some musical numbers into it. That’s not to demean the film in any way; as odd as it sounds, it is an accurate description and it’s hard deny that it isn’t a great film regardless of what you see it as.
The strengths of the film lie in its quirkiness. It certainly is full of vulgar and salty language, but that shouldn’t phase those used to Gandolfini’s other works and the usage of songs by Bruce Springsteen, James Brown, Dusty Springfield and Bow Wow Wow make for an interesting picture throughout. It’s hard to talk too much about the film, as even though the plot isn’t entirely original, it is something that has an original execution. Aside from praising its uniqueness, there’s little to talk about in the film.
Despite their oddity, the songs do help the song move along and emphasize the characters feelings throughout. I will say that the sudden drop off and lack of songs towards the end of the film make it feel uneven, as once Nick is diagnosed with cancer, there seems to be nothing to sing about. Obviously a valid reason not to sing, but considering so much of the film had been built upon the songs, it seems awkward to end it with so little.
Romance and Cigarettes boasts a powerful cast, from Susan Sarandon to James Gandolfini all the way down to Mandy Moore and Kate Winslet. The film evokes a nice message from Gandolfini as he sits in church towards the end of the film, but aside from that there isn’t much depth to any of it. It is a delight to watch, however, even if you find yourself laughing at the absurdity of it all. Those looking for a family friendly musical should look elsewhere, however, as the film more than warrants it’s R-rating, as evidenced by the sometimes vulgar language in referral to genitalia on more than one occasion. Still, the quirks are what make the film work and for that reason alone, John Turturro’s film is worth at least one or two viewings. Recommended.
Romance and Cigarettes arrives on DVD with quite the eye catching cover, as well as a host of extras. On the inside of the case we find a disc with art of an ashtray and a cigarette and static menus without music that are simple and easy to navigate (I seem to say that about every DVD, but I’ve run into more than a few that are quite annoying). No slipcover or inserts are included for this release, but there are a fair number of extras to enjoy on this release regardless.
First up is an introduction to the film by John Turturro as well as a full length commentary with John Turturro and his son Amedeo Turturro, who had a small role in the film as one of Fryburg’s friends. The two make for a lighthearted and entertaining track and John Turturro makes ample usage of the near two hour runtime to detail the making of the film. He comments on the musical numbers as well as the decisions for which songs to use. It’s a nice, lighthearted track that is entertaining to listen to if you enjoyed the film itself, though it doesn’t offer much to the viewer in terms of extra reasoning to love the film by any means.
Next up on the special features docket is a selection of seven deleted scenes (15:35), all with intros by John Turturro. The deleted scenes are presented in widescreen in a 4:3 non-anamorphic frame and are all unfinished, although there are some nice character moments that were deleted from the scene, mainly with Nick and his daughters. Finally a twelve minute making-of in “Making a Homemade Musical” is included and includes plenty of on-set footage as well as interviews with some of the actors. It’s a short extra, but it gives a nice look into the lighthearted production that the feature enjoyed. It’s a nice little extra that wraps up the production of the film in a twelve minute nutshell, for better or worse. As with the deleted scenes, it’s widescreen in a 4:3 non-anamorphic frame. I continue to be confused as to why DVD extras are produced in widescreen and slapped on the discs in a squished frame. It just seems utterly pointless to me and it looks absolutely crappy on a 16×9 set.
Overall the DVD for Romance and Cigarettes arrives in a nice package that will satisfy the viewer. The films 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is crystal clear and free of any real grain and has an excellent level of detail retained in it. The 5.1 surround mix sounds wonderful for the musical numbers and the subwoofer even sees a little bit of action with one of Nick’s dream/delusion sequences (I’m still not sure exactly what that was, but the thunderclap scared the crap out of me). Recommended.
Romance and Cigarettes arrives on DVD on February 12th.