Dir/scr:John Turturro. US. 2005. 106mins.
After the first song-and-dance number of John Turturro'sstar-peppered blue collar musical, the Venice press corps broke into loud,spontaneous applause. When the second ended, there was a more subdued ripple.By the time the third came along, the excitement had died down, and thegood-natured, foot-tapping, flawed nature of the whole exercise was becomingapparent.
Thereis a lot to like about Romance & Cigarettes - notably a pricelessturn by Kate Winslet as a good-time Yorkshire girl in New York - but in the endthe film is suffocated by the weight of its own whimsy, despite the sheerdelight of certain scenes and a sprinkling of hilarious one-liners.
USdistribution prospects will be buoyed by the call of the cast - especiallyGandolfini, whose role in The Sopranos has made him a household icon.But nevertheless, it's difficult to see this odd hybrid straying far out of thearthouse.
Internationally,it will open scattershot in territories with mature film-going audiences, buthere too its prospects will be compromised by its borderline nature: toofrivolous for hardline cineastes, and not enough of a true musical to satisfyfans of the genre.
Marketingwill be helped if Winslet realises her outside chance of a Best SupportingActress Oscar nod. After competing at Venice, Romance & Cigarettestravels to Toronto.
Thefilm is a tribute to the Queens, New York neighbourhood where Turturro grew up.Though set in the present day, its vision of a close-knit blue-collar communitywith friendly cops and dancing firemen is shot through with nostalgia.
Whatplot there is centres on the marital infidelity of family man Nick(Gandolfini), who has a feisty wife, Kitty (Sarandon), and three grown-updaughters.
Nickis having an affair with lingerie seller Tula (Winslet), a refreshingly directwoman from northern England who whispers sweet nothings like "next time theflag rises, you can knock on the back door, Marlon Brando style".
EventuallyNick is given his marching orders by Kitty, sees the error of his ways,dismisses Tula, and moves back into a house where nobody talks to him. A finalplot twist sends the film into darker, more lachrimose territory.
Turturrouses a sampling technique both in the musical numbers and in much of thecuriously mannered dialogue, as existing songs rather than originalcompositions are pressed into service, American Graffiti-style.
Sometimesthey are sung entirely by the characters in the film, as in a rousing Gospelversion of Piece Of My Heart, conducted by Eddie Izzard as a hip,shaggy-haired vicar; sometimes the character sings over the original, as in theopening number, Engelbert Humperdinck's A Man Without Love; andsometimes the original is left undesecrated, as is the case with James Brown's HotPants.
Songlines filter through into the dialogue (a shame that this has already been done- more effectively - in Moulin Rouge). So do lines of poetry, mostly from theworks of Charles Bukowski.
SteveBuscemi puts in an enjoyable performance as Nick's colleague Angelo, a manwhose mind is full of useless facts and useful obscenities. But ChristopherWalken's turn as rockabilly Cousin Bo is just plain silly, and marks the pointwhere the audience begins to lose sympathy with the film's improvised brio andlack of dramatic self-discipline.
Whatsurvives, in the end, is Romance & Cigarette's warm, offbeathumanity, its quirky visual style (a combination of Donna Zakowska's hyper-realset and costume design, and Tom Stern's edgy filming style, which applies a USindependent aesthetic to the musical genre) and Winslet's gloriously trashyTula.
Icon Entertainment International