Brooklyn-born and Park Slope resident John Turturro wrote and directed the film Romance and Cigarettes, currently showing at the Film Forum in Manhattan. The film was deemed not releasable by Sony Pictures, and held up almost two years; it is now distributed by Turturro himself. His previous film, Illuminata, about a playwright struggling to produce his new play, was no more mainstream than this one, and we should be grateful for the continued exercise of Turturro's lively imagination.
This is an extraordinarily original, highly entertaining and very funny film featuring a stellar cast (James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Kate Winslet, Steve Buscemi, Christopher Walken, Mary-Louise Parker among others, many of whom also appear in his previous film) and a supporting cast of sundry blue-collar-type singer/dancers, having the time of their lives in a bawdy (is it ever) kind-of-musical with oldie songs you thought you'd forgotten (try Connie Francis's Scapricciatiello (Do You Love Me Like You Kiss Me).)
This is the type of movie that's hard to describe better than that. It does have a simple if effective plot: it deals with the repercussions of Gandolfini's wife (Sarandon) discovering his torrid affair with lingerie saleswoman Winslet. The ensuing screaming match between them and their three daughters (who side with their mother) is only the first of many scenes where director Turturro manages to extract the best from his actors (or maybe worst, considering the many less-than-flattering close-ups of the female stars in the throes of intense emotion.)
Just after this, Gandolfini, thrown out of his house, breaks into Engelbert Humperdinck's A Man Without Love, and is joined in chorus by various garbagemen and others who happen to be on the street. Believe me, you have to see it to appreciate it. This is a film you want to see on the big screen.
In reply, Sarandon belts out Joplin's Piece of My Heart to allieviate her wronged woman's pain.
The story line unfolds predictably; but the devil is in the details. Gandolfini derives little insight from conversation with fellow worker Buscemi, whose views on women can best be summarized as hyper-male-chauvinistic pig like. But as with much in this movie, it can still draw laughs.
What's unpredictable here is the frequent stylized campy musical numbers; Walken with an over-the-top rendition of Delilah; Winslet with the unforgettable Scapricciatiello as the coda to what is probably the foulest-mouthed sex scene ever (which reveals no flesh; check youtube for music video); Winslet as a sex symbol in a flaming red party dress writhing in a burning building as dancing and singing firemen use a hose in, shall we say, a very suggestive manner.
Suspension of disbelief is important in the enjoyment of this movie. The daughters, for example, presumably teenagers, are played by Parker, Mandy Moore and Aida Turturro, the last only a few years younger than her screen father. Somehow this does not seem important after a while, but it's just an example of how Turturro keeps you off-balance.
The cinematography by Tom Stern is also spectacular and original.
It's not surprising that this movie has gotten mixed reviews; seems like the further you are from the urban centers, the less favorably it's been received. As my friend KC mentioned, "it's a classic New York (soon to be) cult movie." And it's set in Queens.
The Catholic Film board has rated it O for "morally offensive," which may or may not be an additional incentive to see it.
But do see it!