Coffee and Cigarettes (2003)

reviewed by
Jerry Saravia


COFFEE AND CIGARETTES (2004)
Reviewed by Jerry Saravia
RATING: Three stars

I've seen skits like Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes" before but never as messily funny or as abrasive. Granted, "Coffee and Cigarettes" is a mess but it is often as engaging in its tomfoolery as almost any comedy from the Hollywood gates.

The film is divided into skits, or more appropriately sketches, and each sketch is a rumination on coffee and cigarettes. Most of the sketches take place in coffeehouses or outside cafes. The participants include real-life celebrities and as varied as one can imagine. We have Joie Lee, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Cate Blanchett, Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Jake White, and so on. You get the idea. In a Jarmusch film, almost anything can happen. And you guessed it: each segment deals with coffee and cigarettes and assorted subjects.

My favorites include Jake White's ruminations to Meg White on the Nikolas Tesla coil (which he keeps handy), Cate Blanchett as herself and as her envious cousin as their differences become readily apparent, Alfred Molina's discussion on how Steve Coogan is related to him thanks to some genealogical research, and Iggy Pop and Tom Waits who convince themselves to smoke again since they both quit (the Pop-Waits skit was originally a short film that won the Palme D'Or at Cannes in 1993).

Least favorites are Steve Buscemi's wisecracks about Elvis's twin brother to Joie and Cinque Lee, and an annoyingly cumbersome segment with Wu-Tang-Clan stars RZA and GZA and a spectacularly unfunny Bill Murray (seen drinking straight from a pot of coffee). The sketches that fall somewhere in the middle include one about African-American friends getting together for coffee for the sake of it, not because there are personal problems to justify such a meeting, an existentially beautiful Mahler bit with Taylor Mead that is a bit too short for its own good and, well, Roberto Benigni is always good for a laugh or two as he nervously handles one espresso cup after another.

"Coffee and Cigarettes" is a film that Jim Jarmusch has been working on for almost twenty years. There is no plot and no real story, but what do you expect from the filmmaker who dealt brilliantly with anomie in American society as in "Stranger Than Paradise"? "Coffee and Cigarettes" is a healthy reminder of how movies don't always have to revolve around extensive plots or complicated storylines - hence, the narrative-based medium we are all used to. Nope, this is a movie about talk, about people talking over coffee and cigarettes (or in some cases, not talking at all as in the Renee French sketch). And yet, there are moments of surprising heft and drama, as in the truthful denouement between Molina and Coogan. This is the kind of film that one can enjoy on its own merits - it is slight but it is entertaining with the occasional truism.

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