Armond White at the New York Press sort of likes "Romance & Cigarettes," which generally does bode well for a film. Either way, it’s only sort of: He admires the way director John Turturro takes the movie-musical seriously, and the way the film "expresses a deep love of pop," but dislikes moments in which the movie "becomes cute and campy. Turturro understands the emotion inside
musicals but is too skeptical, or ultimately unskilled, to treat them
with coherent depth." At Salon, Andrew O’Hehir loves it, called it "the most original picture by an American director I’ve seen this year, and also the most delightful… There’s more hilarity, more sense of risk and more sheer filmmaking joy in ‘Romance & Cigarettes’ than in roughly the last 157 indie pictures I’ve sat through." Stephen Holden at the New York Times agrees that "There is more raw vitality pumping through ‘Romance & Cigarettes,’ John Turturroâ€™s passionate ode to the sensual pulse of life in a working-class neighborhood of Queens, than in a dozen perky high school musicals." He also points out that "If the filmâ€™s proudly bawdy audacity goes a long way toward compensating for its narrative shortcomings, that audacity is still a commercial liability," a thought followed up by Michael Koresky at indieWIRE, who writes that the film, "like ‘One from the Heart,’ is an interiorized musical set somewhere between stark lower middle-class reality and all-consuming artifice–also like that film, it’s not entirely successful in its aims, often poking around rather than rooting to its characters’ emotional core. Yet the labor of Turturro’s love is evident in nearly every frame."
The film doesn’t work for Michelle Orange at the Village Voice, who writes that "Romance & Cigarettes is less a story than a state of mind, and less a musical than a meditation on how we instinctively set our lives to music, if not other musicals; unfortunately, it is just shy of convincing on both counts." Gregory Kirschling at Entertainment Weekly adds that "With [Christopher] Walken around, hair up high, of course there are fleeting moments of fascinating weirdness, but even then, you’re still moderately embarrassed for the cast."