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“Romance & Cigarettes.”

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"Maybe I don't know how to show it like they do in the movies or in books, but I love."
A caveat: We’re appallingly susceptible to both unconventional musicals and films that demonstrate such reckless commitment to an unreasonable idea that one imagines the filmmaker spent months running from all naysayers with hands over his or her ears, shrieking "LALALALALA!" So we’re predisposed to like "Romance & Cigarettes," the third directorial effort from actor John Turturro, a Queens-bound musical that finds its far too famous cast crooning pop songs while navigating the unhappy mundanities of day to day life, having affairs, mourning marriages and enjoying a smoke (those things’ll kill you). And oh, we do like it — ebullient, uneven and strange as all hell, "Romance & Cigarettes" makes use of that Dennis Potterish realization that song and dance numbers and unpretty naturalism needn’t fit seamlessly together, that they might be all the more poignant for being jarringly paired, bright spots of the most theatrical legacy of movie magic daubed on a gritty, foul-mouthed portrait of working-class life.

James Gandolfini, who’s unlikely to score a record deal from this, plays ironworker Nick Murder, married to Kitty (Susan Sarandon) but having an affair with Tula (Kate Winslet), an uninhibited Scottish lingerie store worker. Kitty, having discovered Nick’s extramarital activities, has rallied her three adult daughters behind her (in one of the film’s casting mysteries, only one of the trio, Mandy Moore, could have feasibly been produced by the 46-year-old Gandolfini; Mary-Louise Parker and Aida Turturro are both in their 40s as well) and seeks solace in the church (overseen by Eddie Izzard). Steve Buscemi is there as Nick’s dirty-minded but philosophical coworker; Christopher Walken plays Kitty’s cousin, Bo, summoned in to help her deal with Tula. There are more recognizable faces crammed in to smaller roles — if there is a moral to "Romance & Cigarettes," it’s that everyone wants to sing.

When they do, it’s alongside the original vocals of songs like Bruce Springsteen’s "Red Headed Woman" or Connie Francis’ "Scapricciatiello (Do You Love Me Like You Kiss Me)." The best of these scenes is the first, with Gandolfini belting out Engelbert Humperdinck’s "A Man Without Love" with back-up help from twirling garbage men and neighborhood loiterers. Later, Walken performs a memorable, campy reenactment of his first love’s betrayal to "Delilah," by Tom Jones, and Winslet turns the ungainly end of a relationship into a captivating underwater number. There’s love and there’s sex and in "Romance & Cigarettes," rarely do the two meet, but most of the downtime is spent dwelling on the latter in imaginatively profane detail. The film could have benefited from less dirty talk and more character development or at least less perculiarity; there are a bewildering number of people in the film, and most go flying by, marking time with one or two aggressive quirks.

Sloppy, indulgent and heartfelt, "Romance & Cigarettes" was inspired by Turturro’s own Queens childhood, and watching the film, it seems clear that it was made more for his own enjoyment than for that of any imaginable audience. Still,  we’re charmed, and hell, you’ve probably already guess if you’d be too.

"Romance & Cigarettes" opens in New York today.

+ "Romance & Cigarettes" (Film Forum)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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