Romance & Cigarettes is what movie experts call an “odd duck.” (Okay, no one actually uses that phrase anymore but me. STOP JUDGING.) Romance & Cigarettes is a movie musical, but it is not, in the accepted sense, a movie musical. It has the structure and form of a romantic farce, but it is not, in the final analysis, a romantic comedy. It is so offbeat and personal and quirky that Romance & Cigarettes can only be compared to itself.
The Plot in Brief: Nick Murder (James Gandolfini) approaches a mid-life crisis by acquiring a new mustache and a mistress. His wife Kitty (Susan Sarandon) learns of his infidelity and kicks him out of their bedroom. Nick is obsessed with Tula (Kate Winslet) but misses being close to Kitty. Everyone smokes. Someone is circumcised. Will Nick leave his wife for an uncertain future with Tula? Will he end the adulterous relationship and return to Kitty? Will we ever know why, why, why, Delilah?
Turturro curated a unique, quirky soundtrack that includes songs spanning decades of American popular music. Early in the film, every man on Nick's block (including two garbage men and one small boy on a Big Wheel) sings and dances in the street to Englebert Humperdink's "Lonely Is a Man Without Love." Kitty's crazy Cousin Bo (Christopher Walken) describes a previous romantic relationship, employing Elvis Presley's obscure "Trouble" and some enthusiastic diner waitresses to make his point. (Even when he is merely walking, you can just tell that Walken can dance.) Later in the film, as he is being loaded onto an ambulance, Gandolfini and the neighborhood chorus extol the virtues of their favorite romantic icon, using Bruce Springsteen's exultant "Red-Headed Woman." The choice of songs here plays a big part in the film's charm. Again, the strength of the musical numbers just makes me wish there were more of them.
Remember, babies, smoking is bad for the lungs… but musicals are good for the soul.