The characters in John Turturro’s directorial efforts (Mac, Illuminata) have a yen for treating choleric fits like arias, a tendency unwisely literalized in Romance & Cigarettes. A self-described “working-class opera,” Turturro’s strained musical reveals its gamble (and betrays its redundancy) right off the bat, when Queens construction worker Nick Murder (James Gandolfini) follows a sour domestic skirmish with his wife Kitty (Susan Sarandon) with a plaintive rendition of “A Man Without Love” featuring backup from garbage men and electricians. The divide between earthbound reality and tuneful fantasy has always been at the heart of the musical, and Turturro’s insistence on muggy voices fumblingly lip-synching to the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck, James Brown, and Connie Francis addresses the genre’s potential balance between the melodic and the dissonant—or, rather, between Kate Winslet singing Nick Cave’s “Little Water Song” and asking her boyfriend to stick a finger up her ass. Although it cribs more than a note from Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective, the antsy narrative of marital redemption is scarcely as agonizing as Keith Gordon’s 2003 version of the venerable BBC miniseries, due largely to a game cast which, from Winslet bouncing through “Do You Love Me Like You Kiss Me” to Christopher Walken making Tom Jones’s “Delilah” his own, scrambles to sell the picture’s ungainly fluctuations. When the approach works, the warbling palookas and yentas are imbued with a moving awkwardness, as if the characters could not keep up with the music of their own fantasies; when it doesn’t, which is unfortunately most of the time, Romance & Cigarettes feels like a Jacques Demy film played at the wrong speed.
- 115 min
- John Turturro
- John Turturro
- James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Steve Buscemi, Bobby Cannavale, Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker, Aida Turturro, Christopher Walken, Barbara Sukowa, Elaine Stritch, Eddie Izzard, Amy Sedaris, P.J. Brown
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