Coffee and Cigarettes
April 18, 2005
Starring: Roberto Benigni, Steven Wright, Steve Buscemi, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Isaach De Bankole, Cate Blanchett, Meg White, Jack White, Alfred Molina, Steve Coogan, Rza, Bill Murray, ,
Coffee and Cigarettes (2003) is a collection of short films that filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has been making on and off for almost 20 years. Shot in between his feature films, these vignettes are a celebration of, well, coffee and cigarettes. Each story features characters drinking countless cups of coffee while smoking as they pontificate about anything and everything.
“Strange to Meet You” features a fantastic clash of comedic styles with the hyperactive Roberto Benigni (who has probably had too much coffee) and the laid-back, deadpanned Steven Wright. Both are given ample opportunity to showcase their particular styles with Wright doing a hilarious riff on coffee. He talks about drinking it before going to sleep so he can dream faster.
Another gem is “Somewhere in California” featuring a meeting of iconic musicians Iggy Pop and Tom Waits who talk about the link between music and medicine over a pot of coffee. They have both quit smoking but then light one up just to prove that they aren’t dependent. This is a wonderfully whimsical segment with Iggy coming off as earnest and a little nervous when Tom takes offence to something he says and gives him a hard time.
Every vignette is shot completely on black and white film stock which accentuates the pitch black coffee always drunk out of white cups rather beautifully. The best segments, not surprisingly, feature name actors interacting with one another. For example, “Cousins” has Cate Blanchett pulling double duty (literally) as herself and her cousin: a funky doppelganger who swears and smokes. She is a wild id to Blanchett’s prim and proper self. They talk at length about Cate’s celebrity status in contrast to her cousin’s train wreck of a life.
Another keeper is “Cousins?” with Alfred Molina trying to convince Steve Coogan that they are related. Molina gushes about Coogan’s performance in 24 Hour Party People (2002) over tea while Coogan remains polite but uninterested in what Molina has to say until he gets an unexpected phone call from Spike Lee. The fun of this segment is watching these two veteran British actors interact with one another, their different styles of acting bouncing off each other. It makes one hope that Jarmusch will cast them together in a feature film someday.
Perhaps the strongest segment is “Delirium” featuring the unlikely meeting of Gza and Rza from the Wu Tang Clan and Bill Murray! Gza and Rza have coffee at a restaurant and are waited on by Murray. They tell the veteran actor that they don’t drink coffee because it causes “serious delirium.” Both men keep referring to Murray by his full name while the comedian drinks his coffee right from the pot.
Not all the segments work. Some, like “Renee” drag on for much too long and with no real point. However, this is quite often par for the course with films like this and like Jarmusch’s other multi-storied efforts, Mystery Train (1989) and Night on Earth (1991), there are segments that are clearly better than others.
There is a theatrical trailer.
“Tabletops” is a montage of overhead shots of table tops from the movie accompanied by instrumental music by the late-great Joe Strummer.
“Bill Murray Outtake” features a funny alternate ending to Murray’s segment.
Finally, there is an “Interview with Taylor Mead,” one of the actors in the film who talks about how Jarmusch works and the structure of the movie. It is the kind of cheeky, playful interview that you would expect from the filmmaker.
Coffee and Cigarettes continues Jarmusch’s fascination with outsiders. The whole film seems to exist in the margins: short films with ideas that couldn’t be put in any of his feature length films and so they exist in this collection. As a result, the movie feels a bit like a patchwork affair, as if Jarmusch was tying up some loose ends before he moved onto his next feature film. That being said, Coffee and Cigarettes is an often entertaining effort that Jarmusch fans should enjoy and will tide them over until his next movie is released.