Even viewers who know that actor-director John Turturro’s latest film is a modern-day musical will still be floored by its first number. Nick (Gandolfini) has been confronted by his wife (Sarandon) about his potty-mouthed redhead girlfriend (Winslet). He broods on his porch, quietly singing Engelbert Humperdinck’s “A Man Without Love”; suddenly, an entire Brooklyn neighborhood joins in, as garbagemen, softball players and a drunk cry out in unison. This Demy-glazed sequence is totally euphoric. Yet the movie that follows is a complete mess.
Using pop tunes to voice the passions of everyday people is nothing new, and when it’s done right—see Dennis Potter’s work—the effect is extraordinary. But Turturro’s attempt to mix working-class magical realism and MGM romanticism is wildly uneven, and for every scene that channels the Freed Unit on an amyl-nitrate binge, a half-dozen comic or dramatic turns fall depressingly flat. Somehow, amid the strutting and crooning, the actors are allowed the odd virtuoso moment—Mary-Louise Parker’s profiled reaction to a phone call, a thermonuclear monologue from Elaine Stritch—which almost redeems this ambitious blue-collar fantasy. Without a cohesive story line to support its set pieces or performances, however, Romance & Cigarettes can only blow fragrant smoke up its own keister.
Cast and crew