Monday, March 31, 2008
It needs to be known that I am what you could call a musical hater. I thought Sweeney Todd might make me change my mind, but that movie was terrible. One of the reasons I hate musicals is because the music almost always sucks. Also, I feel like they're always suffering from an identity crisis. On the one hand, you have a regular movie that's supposed to be believable and realistic (for the most part) but then all of the characters break out in a song and dance. What that hell is that all about? It's all or nothing. Either follow in Fantasia's footsteps or forget the whole thing. That being said....
Romance & Cigarettes is a musical comedy written, produced, and directed by John Turturro that stars James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, and Kate Winslet with numerous others supporting. I had some reservations about it but come on, what's not to love?
Gandolfini plays Nick Murder, married to Kitty (Sarandon) but having an affair with trashy Irish hussy Tula (a surprisingly believable Winslet). Kitty figures it out when she finds poetry about Tula's vagina on Nicks dresser and then it all comes crumbling down. What follows is how every person involved deals with their own problems. Both Nick and Kitty are tormented, trying to decide if they should stay or go, meanwhile their daughter Baby (Mandy Moore) is having her own pre-marital troubles with Fryburg (Bobby Cannavale).
This movie reminds me of many of Turturro's various characters: silly and fun. It's very clearly a movie that he made. The first 60 to 75 minutes were pure joy; I was laughing constantly. Yes, Turturro took a plot like that, threw in some dance numbers and made it hilarious. Music was an integral part of the movie, though. It wasn't just thrown in for comedy's sake. The lyrics sung in all of the songs were used to further the plot and were descriptive of what was going on in the story. But these songs weren't the only musical part of Romance. If nobody was singing on camera at the moment, they were spouting song titles and lyrics in the middle of their conversations (particularly Christopher Walken). This made for not just a musical but a movie largely influenced by music. I congratulate Turturro on his apparent encyclopedic knowledge of music.
The majority of Romance & Cigarettes was a musical covered in cheese but sadly it suffered it's own type of identity crisis. Most musicals fail because the music is out of place and unintentionally funny. It interrupts the rest of the movie and makes it seem like the director smashed two different movies one grand piece of garbage. Romance overcomes that challenge but comes up short in a similar way. The last half hour almost entirely gets rid of the comedy, cheese, and music and it becomes a depressing drama. There's a specific moment where you realize, "Oh, this is serious now. No more jokes." It felt like the movie completely switched gears. I'm not saying the end was bad, I'm just saying it was out of place and had a different tone than the rest of the movie.
I appreciate John Turturro making a musical that even someone who hates them really enjoyed. It was hilarious, surreal, and cheesy. It had all of the things that make for a good movie: nice cinematography, fine acting, great soundtrack, all that good stuff. If only Turturro stuck with it through the whole movie and kept it consistent, it would have been near flawless. Otherwise, though, this is a great movie and I highly recommend it to my fellow musical haters looking for something to change their minds.