Coffee and Cigarettes (Jim Jarmusch, 2003)

 Have a vignette with your cake and tea

The correct way to watch Coffee and Cigarettes is in chunks, maybe four or five of them. The film is a collection of shorts Jim Jarmusch wrote and directed over the course of many decades, all of them tableside conversations between well-known musicians and actors. Sometimes playing themselves, sometimes not. Most of them are charming in their own right, but view them all in one go and it gets a little tiresome. The black and white meet-ups are like finger food. Take a few at a time, enjoy them, then watch another the next day.

What are Steve Buscemi, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett talking about? Mostly sweet nothings about the nature of coffee and cigarettes and life. The shorts are often deliberately awkward and could with some generosity be called philosophical. There is a wide quality gap between the ten or so segments that make up the film. Some of them fall flat, also on the acting side, others are highly enjoyable. When Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan meet up, it’s fireworks. Their conversation rises to Curb Your Enthusiasm levels of douche chill. Likewise, a rendezvous between Iggy Pop and Tom Waits hits the spot, as does the final short starring Bill Rice and Taylor Mead as two elderly gentlemen on a break.

At times it feels like a student film trying to figure out what works on film. All that talent present should have created something much more memorable than this is. In fact, I had almost forgotten I’d already seen this film years ago, such was its limited impact. What’s missing is an overall sense of drama or irony, one that only occasionally pierces the veil. The sweet nothings are often so nothing they might almost not exist at all.

Coffee and Cigarettes is like a poetry bundle. It has a beatnik sensibility, both in its non sequitur nature and array of topics discussed. If that seems like a good time to you, and you’re attracted by the promise of many big names from movies and music, it might be enjoyable. But a kind word of advice: pretend it’s a television series and watch one every day, rather than all of them in a row. The coffee’ll go down much better that way.

Roderick Leeuwenhart