John Tuturro is nothing else if not original, and his second film as writer/director is nothing if not a swift kick in the nuts to the sheen of movie musical. It&#39 s fresh and original and, when at its best, extremely and surprisingly funny. Tuturro casts very well for a story that&#39 s like a half baked fever dream of blue collar malaise (think the Honeymooners meets French New Wave art film) Gandolfini plays Nick Murder, a man who loves his wife Kitty (Sarandon), but can&#39 t seem to lay off the women on the side the one she&#39 s now with, Tula (cockney voiced Winslet) is a fiery redhead. Right at the start there&#39 s an argument and a near fight, and the rest of the film becomes a rumination and celebration of love and lust and other crazy things involved with the human heart, leading up to redemption.

There&#39 s a certain quality to Romance and Cigarettes that marks it as a pop marked must see, a picture with terrific songs (ranging from Joplin to James Brown to Elvis to Cindi Lauper), and some terrific numbers to go along with them. There&#39 s an exuberance that Tuturro reaches for that he achieves like few who&#39 ve made musicals in the past several years his actors, however much they do or don&#39 t seem to be singing with the songs playing on during the numbers, are into the groove, the abstract/surreal quality that at times makes it like a whacked out extended dream sequence on the Sopranos (Buscemi and Tuturro sister Aida were also on the show, the latter here as Gandolfini&#39 s daughter as opposed to his sister on the show). There is so much that does entertain that it becomes a shame when it starts to dawn on one that a) the film has a shallow center to it, as we know nothing much about Nick and Kitty&#39 s marriage aside from the spoken words of “we were in love, then, not”, and then leading into b) an unnecessarily bleak ending, where the possible reigns of the high spirits are replaced by a kind of screeching halt aesthetic, albeit with the most organically sung (i.e. out of the scene itself not as a NUMBER) song in the film.

But for fans of film in general it&#39 s a scatter shot treat that provides the kinds of joy that the usual Hollywood grind wont provide. Top of the pops belong to Christopher Walken, who has a strange accent (black guy or slight southern touch as Cousin Bo?) pulls off his funniest in a song since the Weapon of Choice music video, and just whenever on screen has one either smiling or laughing hysterically. Winslet is also astoundingly good here in a part that requires her to be tart tongued but not a floozy, sophisticated in a manner of speaking even if the &#39 girl on the side&#39 . She gives it her all, which also goes (mostly) for the main middle aged stars. Sometimes you do wish you could just hear the actors belt out the songs themselves without the background tuning up as if it&#39 s like a demented karaoke out of the New York/New Jersey blue collar world. But when they do connect, it&#39 s a lot of fun. Same goes for the movie itself a very admirable first time out, if almost too ambitious for the nature of the script.

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