Like the best of Jim Jarmusch's previous outings, the caffeine-swilling, smoke-swirling vignettes of "Coffee and Cigarettes" are full of wry humor and human surprises.
By MARIANA CARRE–O KING
There was a time when anybody could sit at a coffee shop or at a bar, happily light a cigarette and enjoy the timeless combination of nicotine and caffeine. Conversations ensued, ideas were exchanged, friendships were born. As smoking bans everywhere tarnish this honorable tradition, over the last 17 years, multifaceted Jim Jarmusch ("Stranger than Paradise," "Mystery Train," "Ghost Dog," etc.) has shot 11 short scenes with people doing just that: sharing cigarettes and coffee (tea, in a couple of exceptions). What began as a sketch for "Saturday Night Live" in 1986 has resulted in the feature film "Coffee and Cigarettes," a collage of eclectic actors and musicians lending their personas to fictionalized situations.
Appropriately shot in black and white, the short, loosely interconnected vignettes nostalgically evoke a time of smoky diners, plastic ashtrays and thick porcelain cups. There is conflict between the characters, albeit subtle, and it's this subtlety that makes the film work. The characters' attempts at communicating with each other are awkward and not always successful, which often results in good comedy. As in "Somewhere in California," a skit involving Tom Waits and Iggy Pop, in which they light up cigarettes and discuss the beauty of quitting. ("You can always have one again.") Tom recounts his busy day performing roadside surgery. ("Music and medicine," he says, "I live in that place where they overlap.") Iggy wonders why Tom likes the place because the jukebox doesn't have his music; they both agree that IHOP has good coffee too. As irreverent as it might sound, the dialogue is full of tension, of oneupmanship, with odd silences and passive-aggressive comments.
|COFFEE AND CIGARETTES|
|Written and directed by: Jim Jarmusch.|
Cast: Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Joie Lee, CinquŽ Lee, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Joseph Rigano, Vinny Vella, Vinny Vella Jr., Renee French, E.J. Rodriguez, Alex Descas, Isaach De BankolŽ, Cate Blanchett, Mike Hogan, Jack White, Meg White, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, Katy Hansz, Genius/GZA, RZA, Bill Murray, William Rice, Taylor Mead.
Cinematography: Frederick Elmes, Ellen Kuras, Robby Muller, Tom Dicillo.
Edited by: Jim Jarmusch, Terry Katz, Melody London, Jay Rabinowitz.
Related links: Official site
The subject of medicine comes up again, also from a musician interested in alternative medicine. In one of the funniest skits, GZA and RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan agree that they feel better since they quit coffee (they drink tea now). When the waiter, Bill Murray, approaches to offer them coffee, RZA tells him that coffee causes delirium, which Murray, drinking nervously from the pot, seems to have already acquired. The only other tea-drinkers are Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, who meet in a trendy L.A. coffee shop at Molina's insistence, because he has proudly discovered that they are cousins. Coogan constantly belittles his fellow wide-eyed actor, who is infatuated with Coogan's success. As with the other scenes, the resolution is as comical as it is unexpected.|
In addition to music and medicine, the themes that unite the scenes include caffeine popsicles, the earth as a conductor of acoustic resonance, drinking coffee at night to accelerate dreams and why it's a bad idea to have only coffee and cigarettes for lunch. The actors, all playing themselves (or sort of), play their parts with disarming honesty. More than celebrities, they resemble the odd people you might find in any New York corner. Specially outstanding is Cate Blanchett, playing a successful actress meeting her not-so-together cousin. Ms. Blanchett plays both parts with uncanny ease.|
"Coffee and Cigarettes" may lack a strong plot or a plot altogether but it doesn't need it. The complexity of the characters and the twists and turns of each individual scene will keep you wanting to see more.
|MAY 19, 2004|
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