As per Jim Jarmusch style, “Coffee and Cigarettes” is a study, not only of human nature, and conversation, but also on unbridled meandering within gestures and just conversation in general which prompt uncomfortably silences and really fascinating situations that are often very amusing and engrossing. Filmed in stark black and white, Jarmusch examines conversation and human interaction while prompting his fascination with Coffee and Cigarettes, an admittedly unhealthy diet that all of the characters use in their sketches. As a love of coffee and a sheer hater of cigarettes, the film did manage to make for some entertaining sketches that shows off the talents of its stars while inadvertently paying homage to “Waiting for Gidoux”.
As one of those rare movie cinephiles who feel film should be art and not just entertainment, Jarmusch manages to create art that is engrossing from beginning to end. Filmed over a span of seventeen years, these eleven sketches are oddly amusing and fascinating when focusing in on characters without dialogue as shown in the sketch “Renee” in which the seriously hot Renee French takes issue with an attentive waiter seeking to find a reason to talk to her (who can blame him?), or in the oddly self congratulatory but very amusing sketch with Meg and Jack White from the White Stripes examining chemistry under Tesla. And Jarmusch is never afraid of paradoxical pairings within the sketches, whether it’s the mellow, but funny Stephen Wright conversing with the sickeningly hyper Roberto Benigni, or the Wu-Tang Clan members the Rza and the Gza conversing with Bill Murray in “Delirium”, as he poses as a waiter hoping to remain unseen by his fans, Jarmusch makes the audience uncomfortable and he does it pretty well.
Both Rza and Gza are insistent in calling Murray by his full name repeatedly, perhaps to remind us, or themselves who he is, and even engage him in a stern lecture about the hazards of smoking cigarettes, and Wright looks bored beside Benigni who shouldn’t really be drinking coffee. And the madness gets worse as in “Twins”, Steve Buscemi, who is funny as always, really plays off well against Joie and Cinqué Lee even wondering who is the “evil twin” which will surely draw many an uncomfortable laugh, while Vinny Belle and Vinny Vella yak in “Those Things’ll kill Ya” which they argue with one another. But my two favorite sketches, are the ones that rely on three big stars and their talents.
The pair of sketches “Cousins” and “Cousins?” make for really engrossing fodder and some truly ironic circumstances. Cate Blanchett plays herself in which she meets up with her raven haired rocker cousin (Blanchett) as they converse trying to get along and start up a conversation, though both obviously don’t want to be there leading up to a hilarious ending, while Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan engage in a very funny and somewhat ironic sketch in which Molina discovers something about Coogan and Coogan takes it for granted ultimately missing out on an opportunity. This was my favorite sketch because Coogan and Molina are hilarious as they play off one another starting off friendly and soon become competitive as they undermine each other rapidly. The film ends on a low note, but Jarmusch pretty much conveys what he’s trying to tell his audience with an entertaining and fascinating film for any art house goon to feed on.
While most of the film is a study in human nature, some of the other sketches are just not only pointless, but incredibly meandering exercises in boredom and stupidity. “No Problem” is an especially boring experience as well as the sketches “Champagne” and “Somewhere in California” with Iggy Pop which was under-whelming and uninteresting to say the least. These are the sketches that stand out as a reason to dislike the film, and will not prove to translate will for audiences. I was bored during these sequences and was happy to see the good ones come along. As with every sketch film, Jarmusch has hits and misses, and these sketches are sheer misses. Despite its flaws with sketches that are utterly pointless and meandering, Jarmusch creates an acerbic piece of art house filmmaking with a great cast displaying their skills in often well written pieces of farce that are bitingly witty and fun.