Coffee and Cigarettes

The lone piece of hate mail that I have received thus far at Cinema Blend, was from a Jim Jarmusch fan. He got mad when I knocked Dead Man in my review of The Missing and proceeded to burn my eyes out with his clove cigarettes. So before I insult anymore fans of the pomped one I should state my view of the man. I think Jarmusch is a talented filmmaker who has the nasty habit of indulging in his quirks until they pile up and break his films’ back, like the straws on the proverbial camel’s hump. When they fit they work great, but when the sixty year old mobster in Ghost Dog is a 2 Live Crew fan it’s distracting. At best it takes you out of the movie, breaks the spell; at worst it outright destroys the film, like it did with Dead Man. Thankfully though, with Coffee and Cigarettes, Jarmusch has returned to quirky character pieces where these flourishes are much more likely to work. While no one is ever going to confuse Coffee and Cigarettes with his true masterpieces like Down By Law and Stranger Than Paradise, Coffee and Cigarettes does mark a welcome return to form for Jarmusch.

According to IMDB Coffee and Cigarettes was made over the course of seventeen years, beginning with the (rather minor) Roberto Benigni piece that opens the film. It is really nothing more then a series of vignettes connected by nothing but our country’s twin addictions. It’s like eleven jigsaw pieces from random puzzles were thrown together. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because they’re pretty to look at on their own, but if you are to look for any larger meaning or connections all you’re going to get is a headache. Tellingly the film works best when it is at its most unassuming. The best scene by far is a scene where a crazed “disguised” Bill Murray serves RZA and GZA of Wu-Tang Clan fame coffee. The scene takes on a flavor that only Jarmusch can deliver as RZA and GZA earnestly discuss holistic medicine, and Murray gulps coffee straight from the pot. By the time Murray gives a hacking smokers cough and GZA says “That don’t sound too good BillMurray!!” You’ll either be rolling in the aisles or headed for the exits.

A scene where Cate Blanchet plays herself against her black sheep of a cousin also played by Blanchet works well, if a little smugly. A scene between Jarmusch regulars Iggy Pop and Tom Waits is wonderful as the two get into one of the strangest semi-arguments ever filmed.

Even the ones that don’t work aren’t that bad, just misguided. Jack and Meg White talking about the Tesla Coil while a portrait of Lee Marvin hangs over them, sadly doesn’t work. It simply doesn’t carry Jaramusch’s voice and is just plain uninteresting. It is the scene that has become sadly obligatory in Jarmusch’s films of late, the scene where we as an audience check out and stay out until something interesting happens to call us back in.

However, despite the lightweight nature of the some of the vignettes and the misguided ways of others, the movie works. In the end even that slight nature is a boon, allowing us to be caught off guard by the final piece where we do get something to chew on. I won’t go into it, instead I want you discover it for yourself. I’ll only say this: It’s a really great scene, honest when it should be condescending, subdued when it should be overblown, and worthwhile when it should be a trifle.

In other words, pure Jarmusch.