Romance & Cigarettes (2007)

Genres - Musical  |   Sub-Genres - Musical Romance, Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - Sep 7, 2007 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 106 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Bruce Eder

John Turturro's loving (and unselfconsciously coarse) musical paean to working-class marital and sexual woes has some fascinating antecedents. The first is The Honeymooners -- James Gandolfini's Nick Murder, a straying, overweight, chain-smoking iron worker, and a schlub of a husband, resembles nothing less than a libidinous version of Ralph Kramden (as he might've been interpreted by Dewey Robinson or Dick Wessel), a parallel only reinforced by the character's immensely funny exchanges of wisdom with his goofy know-it-all co-worker Angelo (Steve Buscemi), who comes off like an Ed Norton of the post-sexual revolution era; while Susan Sarandon's Kitty, Nick's wronged, loving, long-suffering wife, is Alice Kramden brought to life with a vengeance and vulnerability that perfectly balances Nick's seeming disregard for the feelings of those he loves. Turturro's other major source of inspiration would seem to have been Woody Allen's Everyone Says I Love You, that director's too-little-seen tribute to classic Hollywood musicals. Both movies present characters in realistic New York settings (from very different parts of the city) who break into song at strategic moments. As Nick and Kitty, and their daughters, and their friends and neighbors in their working-class Brooklyn neighborhood are not the most articulate of characters, whenever they encounter a feeling they can't express in dialogue, they break into song, supported by some elaborate dance as well. The effect of these sudden transitions, and the switches to the life of the mind of these characters, helps to keep the movie entertaining even when the language, emotions, and subject matter get a little too coarse. In the latter regard, this film is far removed from Allen's work, so that their structures may be similar but their textures couldn't be more different. Where Allen's movie reeked (and sang) of upper-class sophistication (sometimes satirizing it) and elegance, Turturro's picture is bold and loud and sometimes close to over the line in its use of sexual images, while it musical images break whatever tension the rage and sexuality lays across the screen. The music is delightful -- there's a great soundtrack CD to be licensed here, even though everything is either mimed to existing records or lip-synched by people other than the actors; and Turturro's work keeps its sophistication below the surface along with its subtleties, which are there if one cares to look, though that might spoil the fun.

Amid the shouting, the singing and the dancing, there are also some delightful grace notes by Elaine Stritch as Nick's mother, and Eddie Izzard as Father Gene Vincent. Mary-Louise Parker, Mandy Moore, and Aida Turturro, give scene-stealing support as the Murder brood. And Christopher Walken turns in one of his more charmingly goofy performances as Kitty's rock & roll-obsessed cousin Bo, his interpretation perhaps owing a tiny bit to the work of Dick Shawn from It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and The Producers -- though Walken brings to the role the usual convincing, unsettling depth that has always made his best work, even in the most superficial of his movies, seem scarily real. The film, for all of its vibrancy and pleasures, has a downbeat aspect that's unavoidable, given its plot and the one of the key flaws in a major character, which makes it difficult to characterize purely as a comedy, though Sarandon brings so much humanity to her character in the key scenes depicting that aspect of the plot that these are some of the warmest and most emotionally accessible spots in the movie (along with Nick's declaration of his love for his wife). Romance & Cigarettes was completed in 2005 but held back from release until its European opening the following year, and only went into U.S. release in September 2007.