Oh how torn I am about this film. Let it be known from the beginning that I have tremendous respect for Jim Jarmusch and what he has done for independent film making. He has always had an effortless knack for combining the weird and black and white to create truly original works (as in Stranger Than Paradise and Dead Man, to name a few).
With Coffee and Cigarettes, Jarmusch assembles his best cast yet to participate in a series of eleven shorts based around coffee and cigarettes. The situations are fairly constant; two or more people who either know each other or who are related sit in a smoky coffeehouse and talk about their lives. The kicker here is that Jarmusch has gathered a healthy round of recognizable faces, thus making opportunities for irony and inside humor a must.
The bad news here is that only three of the shorts are really that good, with two being decent, and the remainder being a waste of time. Entire shorts could have been cut with little to no harm done to the film as a whole.
Instead of concentrating on the weak shorts, I’ll highlight the best. The funniest and most entertaining is “Delirium,” featuring Bill Murray as a waiter and Gza and Rza of Wu Tang Clan fame as informative customers regarding caffeine. Murray’s presence alone makes this worth the wait (it is the second-to-last short in the film), and the payoff is more than satisfactory.
Also faring very well is “Cousins?” featuring Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan. Molina makes the shocking discovery that they are in fact cousins, with Coogan being too full of himself to care. This is the most fully developed and realized of the lot. It would be a crime to spoil the punchline, but rest assured this is one of the stronger shorts.
The last of the best is “Somewhere In California,” featuring Iggy Pop and Tom Waits meeting a restaurant to talk music, coffee, and cigarettes. The dialogue is not overly compelling, but the scene plays out with such tongue-in-cheek humor that one can’t help but appreciate the efforts of Pop and Waits.
“Twins,” with Steve Buscemi as a waiter servicing twins and “Those Things’ll Kill Ya,” with Joseph Rigano and Vinny Vella going at it, are both watchable and reasonably entertaining, but lack any real punch.
Unfortunately, the remaining six are all weak and drag horribly. It is a shame considering all the talent involved, but a few of them (“Renee” in particular) are just painful.
Jarmusch is in a fortunate position in that the independent film community, whom I love, already sees him as a hero and will like virtually anything he releases. Coffee and Cigarettes emits the vibe that he knows this, and is basically just winking at us while displaying all the talent he rounded up for this project. The lasting feeling that I have from the film is that this is more of an ego project than anything, and unfortunately there isn’t a whole lot here to boost one’s ego.
When the dust settles, this is not one of Jarmusch’s stronger efforts, but one that undoubtedly some will appreciate for its strange situations and casting. A little less than half of the film worked for me, which cannot justify a recommendation.
Studio: United Artists
Length: 96 Minutes
Rating: R for language.
Theatrical Release: May 14, 2004 (Limited)
Directed by: Jim Jarmusch
Written by: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Joie Lee, Cinque Lee, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop