|A FilmExposed Film Review
Coffee and Cigarettes (15)
Dir: Jim Jarmusch, 2003, USA, 98 mins
Cast: Roberto Begnino, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Cate Blanchett
RZA from the Wu Tang Clan challenges Bill Murray: ‘Are you a bug, Bill Murray?’; Tom Waits and Iggy Pop agree that their decision to quit smoking doesn’t preclude them from smoking; and Steve Coogan reveals that ‘palm trees annoy the fuck out of me’; Coffee and Cigarettes is almost as good as… coffee and cigarettes! But of course it would be — this is Jim Jarmusch directing a cast of eminently watchable actors nearly all of whom play themselves, or at least a satirized version of themselves. The chances of failure are roughly equivalent to the chances of Tom Waits’ ‘roadside surgery’ becoming the fourth emergency service.
A series of short films linked by the eponymous great levellers, Coffee and Cigarettes is a charming exploration of just how weird human beings are, what with their conspiracy theories and communication problems, their rivalries and routines. Each film follows the same basic template — two or three protagonists shooting the breeze whilst drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes (the English pairing of Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina drink tea), and that’s it — as mentioned before, this is Jim Jarmusch.
The format is as liberating as it is constricting. The largely improvised dialogue never ceases to engage and recurrent themes and motifs are played out in an interesting and fresh manner. An unmistakable motion propels the eleven vignettes affording the film an overall unity without compromising its episodic nature. Jarmusch frames each shot with the photographic simplicity for which he is acclaimed, appropriately judging the requirements of every scene in a film that does not lend itself to hugely ambitious camera craft.
Nonetheless, on occasion the limitations of the form become apparent. Certain chapters work better than others — Renee is wilfully lyrical and No Problem feels rather tired and silly — and the film is sometimes guilty of mistaking continuity for coherence. The film lacks some of the verve and formal innovation of Jarmusch’s earlier work; in comparison with Down By Law and Stranger Than Paradise, it can feel somewhat ephemeral. But this is to carp, a reflection more on the extent to which Jarmusch has raised the bar for independent filmmakers than on the film itself.
It is occasionally dull and indulgent but Coffee and Cigarettes works. A simple, unpretentious film; witty, original and poignant with a number of scenes that are almost perfectly realised. Highly recommended.