Hear about that movie Romance and Cigarettes that premiered last night? You know, the one directed by John Turturro, starring Chris Walken, James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Steve Buscemi, Kate Winslet, Mary Louise-Parker, Bobby Cannavale, Mandy Moore, Elaine Stritch and Amy Sedaris? Well, don’t feel bad if you didn't – that fact that two years since it wrapped the film’s been released all over the world except the town where it was shot speaks volumes about the Hollywood distribution system.
So it was understandable that Turturro began his pre-screening speech by declaring that he felt like Odysseus; having traveled the globe for years to promote his labor of love, the Brooklyn/Queens native was clearly elated to finally bring it all back home. He went on to share a story about being recognized by an airport employee in Naples as “the guy who made the wonderful Romance and Cigarettes!” The man’s co-worker, on the other hand, was quick to chime in something to the effect of, “But I heard that was having trouble in America!”
The reasons for this are not nearly as interesting as the movie itself, which is as wildly imaginative as it is gutsy. Gandolfini plays a Bensonhurst construction worker who gets caught cheating on his wife (Sarandon) with a red-headed tart (Winslet) who works down at Agent Provocateur, the lingerie store. But this simple tale of outer-borough adultery isn’t what makes Romance and Cigarettes so marvelous, it’s Turturro’s inspired choice to let his dream cast cut loose in a hit parade of hysterical chorus numbers, culled from the best tunes from the fifties and sixties. If you want more of the Chris Walken you loved in that Fatboy Slim video, you’ve got it. But just wait until you see James Gandolfini singing his heart out during an adult circumcision, or Kate Winslet dirty dancing in a burning building – with Buscemi’s firehose powerless to cool her down. And that’s just the tip of the cigarette!
Starting at Film Forum next week, Romance and Cigarettes blows through this summer’s coda with an infectious joie de vivre, made all the more poignant by Turturro’s melancholy, anti-Hollywood ending. It’s a unique film that’s startlingly visionary – not in the Herzog ‘drag a boat over a mountain’ sense (though Turturro might feel that way about the distribution mess) – but in the way he creates his very own distinctive world and trusts his actors to inhabit it to the fullest. More photos from the premiere after the jump.