A tenuous plot disperses into a smoky haze in low-budget tune-fest Romance & Cigarettes. It's billed as a "down and dirty musical about love" and actor-turned-filmmaker John Turturro certainly brings a cheekily raw and edgy quality to a stagnating format. There are also hearty performances from James Gandolfini, Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet as three corners of a suburban love triangle, but that's just one facet in a film of many parts that fail to harmonise.
Essentially it's a tug of love that veers in all directions, a riot of kitchen sink karaoke where even marginal characters sing along to the likes of Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield in expression of grand amour. The mix of theatrical gestures with a gritty portrait of workaday life is exciting at first and there are some arresting images (pregnant women in baby-doll dresses squatting in the street), but this surrealism eventually drowns in soapy melodrama.
"SINGING TO ITS OWN TUNE"
As styles diverge, unease creeps in and overshadows the actors. Winslet plays the mistress with wicked verve yet her eccentricities also keep her bound in the realms of fantasy. When she finally reveals her vulnerability, it has nil impact. A similar fate befalls Gandolfini and Sarandon when events take a sharp left turn in the last half hour. Turturro angles for pathos but this jars with the preceding chaos of kitsch. Christopher Walken is good for a few laughs doing his big-haired loon routine, but like everyone else in the film, he's singing to his own tune. Ultimately, what this musical lacks is one prevailing voice.