Thursday, September 27, 2007

Movies: Romance & Cigarettes

Lipstick red, turf green, chalk white, five o'clock shadow, patty sizzling in the fry pan, smoke-stained yellow wallpaper, and big hair make for high-saturation disappointment in Turturro's star-studded. . . musical?

Let me put it this way. James Gandolfini is a man that we love. He is a man that we respect. He is Tony Soprano. And many doubted that he would ever be able to be anyone but Tony Soprano ever again. He can. He's Nick Murder, and his silly little dirty mustache helps to remind us of that. But when he walks out into the street, singing, all we can say is what the fuck? Tony would never do this.

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about, here is a brief synopsis. James Gandolfini is Nick Murder, a Brooklyn-native who lives in a dirty little house with his wife Kitty (Susan Sarandon) and their three "grown" daughters (Mandy Moore, Mary-Louise Parker, and Aida Turturro). I say "grown" rather than grown because the three girls are in a perpetual state of teendom (and Mary-Louise Parker being forty-something adds a very strange affect to this mix), living at home and playing angst-rock on a makeshift stage in the backyard. Moore, as Baby, is in puppy love with neighbor Fryburg (Bobby Cannavale). Nick is in love with Tula (Kate Winslet), who has flaming red hair, a potty mouth, and a hot accent, and who works in Soho's own Agent Provacateur (where all the sales girls wear tight little pink smocks bursting at the bust to reveal $250 AP brassieres underneath; I know; I shop there). This is a small but sharp thorn in Nick's marriage to Kitty, who finds out as the movie begins that he's been cheating on her, and cuts him off from sex, speech, and meals. Nick gets advice from his coworker (bridge construction) Angelo (Steve Buscemi) and Kitty gets advice from her cousin Bo (Christopher Walken).

So how do you fuck up a cast like that, if you have a fairly decent plot, some eccentric characters, and a brilliant sense of color? Simple. You add some (sub-par) pop songs, and you ask brilliant actors to sing along in a totally non-campy way, while performing absurd and embarrassing choreography, and you hire a team of West Side Story backup dancers to perform choreography in the street while the stars sing, in their weak, croaky voices, over and along with the recorded music. Susan Sarandon is too classy to sing (Break Another Little) Piece of My Heart, and anyway, if you're going to use that song, at least use the Janis Joplin version, not the Dusty Springfield one.

Every time you start to like this movie, e.g. when Nick and Tula are lying in bed and Tula is eating fried chicken with her hands, the characters inevitably break out into song and tear down your suspended disbelief. It's infuriating, because we know the cast is brilliant, and the colors on screen are delicious. The three daughters are the film's saving grace, because their characters are the only ones that can substantiate these musical interruptions (interestingly enough, they play only bits of original composition—no pop song singalongs for them). Bobby Cannavale as Fryburg is the secret star of the picture, injecting (along with the sisters) the necessary camp in a way that no one else (maybe Christopher Walken) does (and I blame Turturro, not the actors). In fact, let's all blame Turturro, for wasting eleven of my dollars, but more importantly, the talents of his cast and crew.

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