Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Romance and Cigarettes


I love musicals, and I love experimentation. I loved Pennies From Heaven, where the performers lip-synched to old recordings, and the dancing was really swell! I thought Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You mostly worked, except for the part where Woody sang. I liked the things Tim Burton did with Sweeney Todd. So I was quite interested when I heard, some years ago now, that John Turturro (who always plays someone at least a little bit weird) had written and was directing a “working man’s” musical with actors not known for singing and dancing.

The film has an extremely checkered history. It never really got a theatrical release, and is only now appearing on DVD. And what a cast! James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, Elaine Stritch, Eddie Izzard, Kate Winslet, Mary-Louise Parker, Steve Buscemi …

… and what a goddam mess. I think Turturro should stick to acting, because he can’t write a coherent script. The musical numbers seem arbitrary, and the quality is like what you or I might produce (assuming you’re not a professional singer) in the shower with the radio on. They are singing with the music, which only gets in the way of the only good thing about this film, which is the source music, much of which is great stuff. But who wants to hear it with James Gandolfini mumbling along and drowning it out? The only person here who can dance is Walken, and he’s not given much to do; he should have had a show-stopper. The only professional singer here is Stritch, and she has one scene, and no singing. The only person who has a good voice is Winslet … and in fact hers is the only really good performance here, almost unrecognizable in thick make-up and a flaming red wig. (And I have to apologize to her, because when I saw her in Titanic I was distinctly unimpressed. Well, how are you going to compete with a 1000-foot sinking ship? I had forgotten about Heavenly Creatures, and since then she has shown herself to be an excellent actress, willing to take all sorts of risks. Five Academy Award nominations so far; there is an Oscar in her future.) (But not for this.) Susan Sarandon comes across okay, mostly because she has the brass and utter self-confidence to project an only so-so singing voice. And anyway, who cares? It’s Susan Sarandon! Eddie Izzard and Mary-Louise Parker are completely wasted.

The casting is distinctly odd. Sarandon was 59 and Gandolfini 44 when this was made … but if anything, she looks a little young for him! She definitely doesn’t look right as the mother of Aida Turturro, though she could have been, since Aida was 43 … one year younger than her supposed father, and she looks it! Plus, we all remember her as Tony Soprano’s little sister. Here, she’s his daughter? Doesn’t work. And Mary-Louise Parker, who was actually 41, is pretty much convincing as a 20-something daughter. Of course, the only thing that matters is what it looks like on the screen, so who cares what ages the actors really are … but most of this casting works very badly.

And what was the deal with naming Gandolfini’s character “Nick Murder?” Some symbolism I’m missing? He was just an ordinary working stiff. This movie is a terrible mess. Avoid it.