Tuesday 18th January 2022

Romance and Cigarettes (15)
Directed by: John Turturro
Reviewed by: James Smith

A very long gestation period, many months languishing in the vaults of United Artists and a limited release in England all suggest that this is a film that those in the movie industry believe audiences will have difficulty enjoying. And certainly the premise is ambitious, to say the least: a 'karaoke musical' about marital infidelity amongst American working class citizens.

Walken: he's got the moves
Walken: he's got the moves

Perhaps, though, the biggest clue to the sheer eccentricity of the film is in the credits – Joel and Ethan Coen, renowned for their offbeat humour, are executive producers. They have put their name to this film, directed by one of their favourite actors, John Turturro, who is probably most famous for playing the title character in the Coens' Barton Fink, and he has certainly learned from his friends how to make a film that shatters audience expectations and even surpasses them for sheer strangeness.

As well as having the Coen brothers as executive producers, this has several other great selling points: the cast is excellent and the music is wonderful. James Gandolfini (The Sopranos) and Susan Sarandon (Thelma and Louise) take the lead roles of Nick Murder and Kitty Kane, a married couple whose happy coexistence is shattered by the introduction into Nick's life of Kate Winslet's (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) buxom redhead Tula. Upon being turfed out of his home, Nick breaks out into a chorus of Engelbert Humperdinck's 'Man Without Love' – or rather, he lip-syncs along to it – and this sets the model for the musical element of the film. Tom Jones, Arethra Franklin, Nick Cave, Bruce Springsteen, James Brown and more all feature on the soundtrack.

Nick tries to make sense of his life, discussing it with the policeman who arrests him for disturbing the peace outside his own home and with his misogynistic work buddy (played by Steve Buscemi). Meanwhile, Kitty seeks out, with her cousin Bo (Christopher Walken, who gets the opportunity to display his dancing talent to the full), the woman who has stolen the affections of her husband. However, it is the scenes with Winslet that are most the most memorable; she affects a strong Mancunian accent, delights in talking filthy throughout (think her performance in Ricky Gervais' Extras last summer) and dresses up in a red leather outfit that looks as if it must have been sprayed on. Poor Nick is powerless when in her grip. Throw in a harpy-ish trio of daughters, played by Aida Turturro (The Sopranos), Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds, The West Wing) and Mandy Moore, a bizarre appearance by Eddie Izzard as a musical Catholic priest and dance choreography that swings between the highly professional an amusingly amateur, and you really do have a film that continues to surprise you with each scene.

Despite its intentions, it never quite works as any kind of insight into the world of infidelity, and the final act in which the 'Cigarettes' aspect of the title is taken to its natural conclusion is a melodramatic step too far. Furthermore, the humour that has served the film well to this point – in the first two-thirds there are a huge number of laugh-out-loud scenes – goes missing, as does Kate Winslet, and it rather lets the rest of the film down. Indeed, it feels as if it is just there so that Nick can snarl the line (which was apparently Turturro's starting point for the film) "Two things a man should be able to do: be romantic and smoke himself stupid." However, despite this lacklustre finale, it is still very worth seeing – few films are quite as adventurous and unusual as this and it is truly a one-off.

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Length: 115 minutes
Certificate: 15
Official Site:
IMDB Link:
Release Date: 24th March 2006

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