Jim Jarmusch's "Coffee and Cigarettes" will either engage or flat-out bore you. I suppose the same could go for the majority of the director's other films, but I find this one to be especially divisive. I know a good number of people who would probably hate it if they saw it; but I also know those who might enjoy its relaxing cinematic approach. It's a simple film, really; enhanced by Jarmuch's signature eye for humane dialogue as well as his quirky direction. It's far from one of his best films, but I'll be damned if it doesn't impress the fans with its wit, dry sense of humor, and allure.
All I can tell you is that when approaching this film, you should probably know that it's all in the title. This is a film involving 11 random vignettes; connected not by characters or sometimes even location, but by the consumption of coffee and smoking of cigarettes, the two of which often come packaged together if in use at all.
Would there be much of a point in me describing each separate scenario? Personal answers to that question aside, I think we can all at least somewhat agree that no, there isn't much of a point at all in me doing that. Instead, I think I'll point out the vignettes that stood out the most to me; the ones that shine amongst the rest. Not all of the film's segments are created equal; some are better than others, while some are filled with the kind of essential simple pleasures that can elevate a perfectly un-complicated story and cast of two individuals to new heights.
I feel the need to mention the segment that opens the film - titled "Strange to Meet You" and originally filmed in 1986 - because it gives Jarmusch's anthology picture a rather grand kick-start. In short, I guess it gives us a basic and general idea of what's to come. The segment itself features Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright sitting down in a restaurant somewhere and having a nice, pleasant chat about the titular substances. There isn't much more to it than that; other than the fact that Benigni appears to be more lost in his addictions than Wright, who arrives not too far down the road.
Next on my short list of honorable mentions comes a wonderful segment that involves Jack and Meg White (of The White Stripes, one of my all-time favorite bands) working, narratively, with the pretense that the two are siblings (which they aren't; as you should know). Jack wants desperately to show Meg his Tesla Coil; of which the latter does not initially seem to care much about. The two seem uneasy; but I suppose that's all a part of the plan.
The final segment that I shall mention is the one titled "Cousins?" - in which Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan talk about showbiz, with Molina eventually coming to the surprise revelation that he and Steve are related by blood. Cousins, Molina says, and the question mark that accompanies the title is absolutely necessary.
"Coffee and Cigarettes" is joyfully experimental. Filmed in glorious black-and-white; this talky feature is a treat for the eyes and the mind. Jarmusch makes it clear that this is his film; certain members of the cast happen to be famous musicians (in particular, Tom Waits and Iggy Pop both make separate appearances, but in the same segment), there are world-renown artists on display, and the narrative is non-linear; if the film can be said to have a narrative at all. The film may not be perfect, but it offers up something different, and that's all I ask for out of independent cinema. "Coffee and Cigarettes" is a minor - but welcome and relaxing - piece of humanistic escapism.
Pros: the realness of the conversations, stark scenery, long list of actors Cons: none for me The Bottom Line: “People I say it's so early in the morning It's a quarter till three We're sittin' here talkin' Over cigarettes and drinking coffee” ~Otis Redding It’s true, as they mention in one of the segments, during a certain time frame in our [or at least … more
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