LYT's Film Pick of the Weekend 12-21-07
I'll be seeing ALIENS VS. PREDATOR: REQUIEM on the 25th, but in the meantime, we have a real gem opening today...
ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES
It's been on the shelf for almost three years – lost in the shuffle when MGM was sold to Sony – but don't let that scare you.
It's a musical – but try not to let that scare you either. I'll admit I'm not the biggest fan of musicals; like many a straight guy, I learned to appreciate the form primarily from Trey Parker. Comedies that are already inherently absurd make more sense with musical numbers, as do Disney fantasies – it's when a movie is serious and musical that it's harder for me to like. CHICAGO, let's face it, was a gay man's conception of what a straight guy ought to find sexy. RENT I'm not gonna touch. HAIRSPRAY – totally not my thing. For me, musicals work on stage in a way that they can't onscreen, because the experience is akin to a live concert, and concerts don't generally translate well to the big screen either.
I liked MOULIN ROUGE, though, but I'm not sure to what degree it's a cheat to use familiar songs. If a song already has a built-in resonance, it seems to me that the director's cheating a bit with a short-cut, and not earning the mood himself. On the other hand, in real life we do sing those emotion-appropriate songs we know at pivotal moments, so there's an element of truth to it. And I certainly don't think Dennis Potter cheats by using old songs in the SINGING DETECTIVE, et al.
All of which is a build-up to the fact that ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES is indeed a musical, it uses familiar songs ranging from Elvis to Joplin to Humperdinck to Bow Wow Wow. It's kind of a comedy, but not always the laugh-out-loud kind. It's a period piece, I think, but I'm not sure what period. Like many musicals, it has a very simple plot – husband cheats on wife, husband regrets it, then gets terminal illness. Spoilers are pretty much irrelevant to this kind of thing.
But basically, it's all kinds of awesome. Presented by the Coen brothers, partially distributed by Mel Gibson's Icon productions, it's written and directed by John Turturro, and stars James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Christopher Walken, Steve Buscemi, Mary Louise-Parker, Mandy Moore, Bobby Cannavale, Amy Sedaris, Elaine Stritch, and goodness knows who else...oh yeah, Eddie Izzard too.
Gandolfini is Nick Murder, which is kind of an ironic name because he doesn't murder anyone [spoiler]. He has fallen out of love with his wife Kitty (Sarandon) and into lust with a smokin' undergarment saleswoman named Tula (Kate Winslet, super hot but with a super-ugly Northern English accent for contrast). Wifey ain't a big fan of this, and enlists her cousin Bo (Walken) to scare Tula off, since Bo has already been convicted of stabbing his own wife, in a flashback sequence set to Tom Jones' “Delilah,” and you have not lived till you've seen Walken belt out a Tom Jones tune. A lot of these songs aren't just sung by the characters – they're on the soundtrack, and the characters sing over them, so it's like a Walken/Jones duet, if you know what I mean. And you have to know how cool that is. If you don't, I'm done with you. Stop reading my stuff.
Nick gets circumcised so he can enjoy Tula even more, or so he thinks. Nick and Kitty's youngest daughter (Moore) wants to marry young, but both parents are against it, though in their agreement on that point they realize what a bad example they've set. Songs are sung. Policemen dance.
If you're a fan of anyone involved, you have to see to believe. Beyond that, there's not much to say, except that it may be the most exuberant movie about a terminally ill guy I've ever seen.