COFFEE AND CIGARETTES
USA 2003 : Jim JARMUSCH : 96 mins
It says something for Jarmusch’s consistency (or, for the less charitable, his lack of development) that, while Coffee and Cigarettes is in fact a compilation of eleven short films spanning nearly 20 years, many viewers will take it as a single feature shot all in one go. The basic structure is virtually identical: two (or sometimes three) characters sit in a diner, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, and talking about the pleasures they derive from these activities. The first segment is also the oldest, with Roberto Benigni and drawlingly laconic US comic Steven Wright struggling with the language barrier. It isn’t especially funny or well done, though Wright’s anti-charisma provides a welcome antidote to Benigni’s trademark overemphatic mugging.
We then get Steve Buscemi trading quips with Joie and Cinque Lee (Spike’s kin), which again isn’t anything out of the ordinary. It’s only with the third segment, with Iggy Pop and Tom Waits (it’s part of the fun that everyone plays themselves in Coffee and Cigarettes) trying to out-cool each other: Waits can act, Pop can’t, both provide unexpectedly high comic value. After four so-so sketches – one of which features a gimmicky double performance from Cate Blanchett as herself and her (fictional) non-famous cousin – the eighth section showcases the shaky thespian abilities of White Stripes duo Jack and Meg White (in which he demonstrates a Tesla coil). An hour has passed in a ho-hum manner, and many viewers may feel they’ve been slightly short-changed.
They’d be very wrong, however, as each of the last three sketches are each worth the price of admission on their own: Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan, drinking tea and engaging in a Yanks-in-Hollywood one-upmanship contest; Bill Murray making friends with the RZA and the GZA from the Wu-Tang Clan; and, best of all, an elegaic farewell performance from inimitable ancient Warhol-era survivor Taylor Mead, showing why he’s been described as “the insouciant pop enigma who’s seen everything and done it all.” His segment is aptly named ‘Champagne’ – the ideal digestif in a film that’s been content to oscillate between uninspiring lemonade and crisp white wine.
12th October, 2004
click here for original Edinburgh Film Festival review
by Neil Young