“Romance and Cigarettes”: The oddest little movie you’ll never see

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Last weekend, I stumbled across
a strange little movie that is likely not playing at a theater near
you. (Unless you live in New York. Then it’s playing at the Quad Cinema.) The movie, Romance and Cigarettes, was written and directed by John
Turturro
and has what may be the best ensemble cast in the history
of weird little independent movies.

James Gandolfini plays
the lead, and his odd best friend is Steve Buscemi. His wife is Susan Sarandon.

His girlfriend is Kate Winslet.

His daughters are Mandy Moore and Mary-Louise
Parker
.

And Aida Turturro
is daughter number three … but she may not be his biological daughter.
(It’s a little confusing.)

His mother is Elaine Stritch.

And his crazy neighbor is Amy Sedaris.

Seriously, does it get much
better than this?

The cast is what makes the
movie amazing. What makes it weird is a bunch of things, most significantly
the format. Turturro calls the movie a “working class opera.” The story is fairly straightforward
— Gandolfini incurs the wrath of his wife and daughters when they learn
of his affair, and he must figure out what he wants as he deals with
major life changes. The odd part is that the characters express their
inner lives via elaborate song-and-dance routines. Some of it is singing,
and some is lip-synching. If you don’t know it’s coming, the first number,
“Lonely Is a Man Without Love,” comes as a bit of a shock.

As a general rule, I like movies to be
linear and grounded in a consistent reality. (It can be fantasy, but
there needs to be a logical order.) However, I find that I’m OK with
things getting surreal when Kate Winslet enters the picture. (Heavenly Creatures, anyone?) Enjoying this movie requires just
letting go and accepting it for all its strangeness — and ignoring details
such as Aida Turturro and Mary-Louise Parker playing James Gandolfini
and Susan Sarandon’s daughters. (Mary-Louise Parker’s age in the movie
is a little hard to peg. She’s got this disaffected adolescent thing
going on — and she may say “I’m gay” in the midst of a chaotic scene.)

Essentially, it seems like John Turturro
called up a bunch of his talented friends and said, “Hey, let’s make
this weird little movie I thought up while working on Barton Fink!” And they all said, “Sure!”

Check out the trailer to get a small
taste of Romance and Cigarettes:



Then make a note to look for
it on DVD in a few months.

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