The Worst Movie Ever
Now, unlike music, I do not keep a list of the Worst Movies Ever. Oh sure, I've seen bad movies, and I do have bad movie categories (Craptastic Summer Blockbusters, Bad Pretentious Art House Films... that sort of thing), but almost every film has some redeeming quality, or aspect, or performance. It may just be that since I believe in movies so much, I make a lot of allowances.
But that's not happening here.
Last night, Mom and I saw Romance and Cigarettes, and if I can save you but one small two hour segment of your life, please believe me - just don't go. Please, I beg you.
It was, of course, our own fault - we were rushed, nothing seemed appealing (boy, do we wish we'd gone with our first instinct of seeing Enchanted, after all), and we were tricked, honestly by the movie ad which featured positive quotes and a picture of Kate Winslet. How can you go wrong with Kate Winslet? Or Susan Sarandon?
Well apparently, you can go lots wrong.
Romance and Cigarettes is the directorial debut of John Turturro, who also wrote the film's largely incoherent screenplay. Based on this, I think we can easily state that Turturro's real talents lay elsewhere, though given what I've seen of his acting, that talent may be somewhere other than in LA.
Romance and Cigarettes - which contains precious little of the former, nor, oddly, the latter - is pstensibly the story of a Queens couple, played by James Gandolfini and Susan Sarandon, with three daughters. The events commence with Sarandon discovering a lusty note from Gandolfini to another woman, who turns out to be Kate Winslet. A blustery confrontation ensues, followed by Sarandon's confronting of the mistress at her work, followed by Gandolfini's decision to stop seeing her, after which the couple gets back together only to find out that dad has lung cancer and shortly, he dies.
Oh, no, that's not the bad part. Did I mention that this is a musical?
Yes, you too may wonder, "Can James Gandolfini actually sing?" (answer: no), or "has Susan Sarandon actually sung since Rocky Horror?" (answer: not from the sound of it), or "Is there any redeeming qulaity to an all girl band featuring Mandy Moore, Mary Louise Parker and Aida Turturro"... but I'm guessing you didn't. I know I didn't, and now I have answers to questions I think should never have been asked in the first place. Not only are these musical numbers, but they're basically lip synched performances to the original pop recordings of various offbeat hits of the fifties and sixties - odd, poorly thought through song choices that never really work to illuminate character or plot points (especially "Take Another Piece of My Heart", which Sarandon does as bad Janet Weiss).
Nearly everyone here is so stupendously awful, you wonder what happened to any evidence of their previous talents. Sarandon, in this regard, is especially awful; her subtlety, her sense of presence... all of this seems to vanish. Gandolfini's problem is more obvious: he can't escape the shadow of Tony Soprano - though Lord knows, playing an outerborough ethnic Italian as a followup to playing a B&T Italian mobster probably wouldn'e be a way to test that, anyway. Mary Louise Parker is so embarrassing you can almost feel her pain. Mandy Moore drops in from the land of tan, and while its unfair to rip for acting choips I'm not sure she's ever had, it may be a federal crime to take her perky good looks and hide them in unflattering haristyles and frumpy outfits as happens here. It's the equivalent of tying her hands behind her back and expecting her to play Classical piano, and she's just not up to it.
Of all the performers, oddly, the one who seems to escape unscathed is... Kate Winslet, who dives into her role as a Cockney sometime hooker (whose day job is at lingerie shop Agent Provocateur), and does it with such gusto that she makes the preposterous seem possible, and almost luminous. Her number - an odd Italian song about basically wanting to do it - was when the film came closest to the mix of fantasy and reality I think it may have intended; and her final number, performed underwater, was surprisingly graceful. The only other reasonably diverting moment - by a performer similarly capable of going to the limits while still hanging on to her class - was Elaine Stritch as Gandolfini's mother, who managed to make her coarse dialogue somehow sing.
It's the script that really boggles the mind, with language so stunningly coarse, and a view of male/female relations so cold and callous that it was the rare moment where I felt compelled to say "excuse me, my Mother is stitting here!" The title of this post comes from the moment when Sarandon, upon hearing about daughter Moore's plan to marry the hunk next door (cute enough, but wasted in the part), and Sarandon says "you must think I look like the cucumber the farmer used to fuck his own ass -" which, really, I think I may have always imagined as the ultimate line an actress could get - well Sarandon got it, and she was terrible with it.
Virtually everything about this film is so stunningly awful, the mind just reels. I'm not even mentioning the atrocious work of Steve Buscemi or Christopher Walken (whose number is probably the film's real misogynist low point). Indeed, the list of big names here speaks to Turturro's connections, but boggles the mind nevertheless - who among these reasonably intellignet performers picked this script as being remotely acceptable? Did they even read it? Or did they just make it up as they went along?
You are welcome to submit your own "Worst Film Ever" choices... but honestly, if you haven't suffered through Romance and Ciugarettes, I'm not sure you know the feeling of true, unending pain. May you never know - don't go.