Romance and Cigarettes, written and directed by John Turturro, is a musical starring none other than Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini. You might not think of Gandolfini as the best pick to lead a musical comedy, but that is exactly what makes the movie work. Romance and Cigarettes looks and feels cheap, but somehow that plays to the film's advantage.
The movie, which also stars Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Steve Buscemi, Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker and Christopher Walken, is about a man who's going through a midlife crisis. He and his wife (Sarandon) no longer get along, so he has started an affair with a younger, feisty redhead (Winslet). His wife, in turn, starts an affair on her own, and things spiral out of control from their. All the while, they sing along to Oldies tunes.
It's hard to describe the appeal of Romance and Cigarettes, other than that the film has a loose, raw feel to it. None of the actors involved are incredible singers (other than Moore, of course), and so the musical elements come off as more comedic than one might expect. I have to assume this is entirely intentional, and Turturro has inserted enough other humor throughout to make his film entertaining. The movie generally isn't laugh-out-loud funny, but it's amusing nonetheless.
Of course, in reality, Romance and Cigarettes isn't particularly memorable, and those of you who have actually heard of this film probably won't remember it a year from now. Would I have seen it if it hadn't been mailed to me? Probably not. Would I be missing out if I hadn't seen it? No, not really. There is nothing extraordinary about the movie, but you can tell that Romance and Cigarettes is exactly the film Turturro set out to make.
If you like musicals - especially musicals that are off the beaten track - then Romance and Cigarettes is worth watching. For the rest of you, you're not missing too much if you skip this mildly enjoyable film.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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