Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for language
Running Time: 95 min.

Cast: Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Joie Lee, Cinque Lee, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Joe Rigano, Vinny Vella, Vinny Vella Jr., Renee French, E.J. Rodriguez, Alex Descas, Isaach De Bankole, Cate Blanchett, Mike Hogan, Jack White, Meg White, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, Katy Hansz, GZA, RZA, Bill Murray, William Rice, Taylor Mead
Director: Jim Jarmusch

Screenplay: Jim Jarmusch
Review published December 11, 2003

More uneven stuff from indie film maker Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man, Ghost Dog) , but when it comes to vignette films, that’s par for the course.  Coffee and Cigarettes was over 17 years in the making, off and on, and is basically just a series of small conversations that take place among certain celebrities, some of which play themselves, while engaged in the consumption of coffee and the smoking of cigarettes.  Most of them are meant to be amusing, although a touch of seriousness is occasionally thrown in, as well as some truths about friendships, fame, and family.  This is one of those films that you like for the little moments rather than the totality, and how many of those moments string together to form a satisfying experience is strictly up to each individual viewer’s personal tastes.

Much of it seems improvised, although some bits are clearly scripted, but each scene is so amateurish, it’s hard to decipher at times.  Some of the highlights include Bill Murray (Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation) improbably matched with Wu-tang Clan’s RZA and GZA discussing the detriment of caffeine and nicotine, Cate Blanchett (Elizabeth, The Missing) playing herself as well as her darker-haired and less fortunate cousin, and Steve Buscemi (Reservoir Dogs, Double Whammy) giving a crazy theory on Elvis’ twin to real-life brother and sister Joie and Cinque Lee (siblings to Spike).

The remaining scenes weren’t exactly my “cup of tea”, so to speak, but have their share of moments, and even when they aren’t really that engaging, the amiability of them made them easy to watch, knowing that another new piece was coming in just a minute or two. 

I wouldn’t recommend Coffee and Cigarettes to just anyone, as I think the majority of populist moviegoers will probably be too bored by it to stick with for very long.  This one’s strictly for the art house crowd, Jim Jarmusch fans, and those who like films that are just a little different than the norm.  As for me, like all of Jarmusch’s projects, I admire his ambitiousness and love some of the small touches, but the big picture always seems less than completely satisfying.  Just like real coffee and cigarettes, this film is an acquired taste.

Qwipster's rating:

©2003 Vince Leo