Described as a ‘down and dirty love story’, Romance & Cigarettes spendsits time in the New York neighbourhoods, watching the planes screamoverhead on their way to Kennedy airport.
Unfortunately the film never getsquite so airborne, despite the vocation of central character Nick Murder(James Gandolfini). Murder is an ironworker who can often be found highabove the traffic of the Brooklyn Bridge, tightening rivets as he casuallydiscusses the pros and cons of circumcision with his oily sidekick Angelo(Steve Buscemi).
Murder is going through something of a mid-life crisis – indeed, many ofthe cast are there or thereabouts. His dormant marriage with Kitty (SusanSarandon) previously produced three children, now all budding punk chicks,but along the way temptation has snared the man of the house in the curvyform of Kate Winslet’s character Tula. She works in Agent Provocateur or,as she so eloquently puts it, “I sell fuck bloomers!”.
Murder, however, is far from satisfied. His wife throws ceaselessvitriol his way, for she knows about his infidelity. The three sisterssupport her in this, but when her back is turned try to help, by cookinghim ghastly mince burgers and leaving him free to overdose on 4lbs ofliquorice in front of the boxing.
As the story progresses, in shakily told form, a new horror is spawned -the musical. Quite how this is supposed to aid the plot is a mystery, witheach reminiscence blown out of all proportion, the characters lip-synchingtheir way through some admittedly top drawer tunes – Tom Jones‘s Delilah is invoked memorably – the end resultsomething akin to one of those awful sing-along butter adverts. Sarandondoes it, Gandolfini does it, even (and especially) Christopher Walken doesit, hilarious as Kitty’s flamboyant cousin Bo, a man with ants in hishigh-waisted pants.
The film ‘settles’ into an increasingly numbing formula of briefcharacter revelation and song, with all cast members involved. The couple’sdaughter Baby (a sweetly innocent Mandy Moore) announces herengagement to her parents’ dismay, the neighbours shovel snow at the houseand eventually Murder’s face, and yet somehow the family survive in thesame home.
And then suddenly, out from the mire, a semblance of story is recovered,the music thankfully retreats to the background and there’s even room foran emotive if drawn-out ending.
As the main character, Gandolfini is curiously likeable, even if he doesresemble an inflated Robert De Niro at times. Kate Winslet renews heracquaintance with flame red hair as seen in Eternal Sunshine of theSpotless Mind, only more brazen and curvaceous this time – “one crudebroad” as Murder memorably describes her. Buscemi steals most of the scenesto which he contributes, an exchange with Murder’s mother one of the film’sgenuinely funny moments. And Sarandon is good, too, as the put-upon wifewho wants to fight back but needs the over-the-top assistance Walken has tooffer, not to mention a brief supporting role from Eddie Izzard as achurch organist.
Overall, however, it’s a puzzling film that can’t quite decide how itwants to proceed. The saving grace is the soundtrack – even if you lose thewill to live in the musical bits, the widescreen belters will see youthrough.