Coffee and Cigarettes Review

Image for Coffee and Cigarettes

Starting life as a Saturday Night Live sketch in 1986, Jim Jarmusch's compendium of 11 short films sees characters shoot the shit while fuelled by caffeine and nicotine.


With coffee now taken on the run in cardboard beakers and cigarettes relegated to an anti-social, only-on-the-pavement habit, there's an almost nostalgic air to Jim Jarmusch's hymn to java, smokes and quirky conversations.

Delighting in throwing people together in unexpected combinations, this anthology of 11 vignettes may be uneven, but throws up enough laughs, smiles and cool moments to stave off the accusations of self-indulgence. Being part of a project that Jarmusch fits around his feature films, three of the episodes here have appeared before.

The first sees verbal hurricane Roberto Benigni meeting withdrawn Steven Wright, each missing the point of the other. In the second, Steve Buscemi explains to Spike Lee's siblings Cinqué and Joie how Elvis was replaced by a twin brother. But the best of this old bunch features Tom Waits and Iggy Pop, who play passive-aggressive games of one-upmanship about their songs on the nearby jukebox.

Enjoyable new entries include Bill Murray exchanging herbal remedies with the Wu-Tang Clan's RZA and GZA, and Jack and Meg White of The White Stripes discussing the physics of the Tesla Coil. The real treats, however, are movie-based; Steve Coogan and Alfred Molina deliver a terrific meditation on insincere actors, career climbing and the impossibility of having a normal conversation in Hollywood, while a virtuoso Cate Blanchett, playing both herself and her white-trash cousin, whips up an 11-minute soap opera, spinning on the pomposity of success and the ugliness of envy.

Some of the episodes are unfocused and lose their way – Bill Rice and Taylor Mead pretending their coffee is Champagne; Alex Descas and Isaach de Bankolé talking around anxiety and comfort – and not everyone will slide into the film's relaxed, ruminative rhythms. But Jarmusch makes gentle points about the difficulty of making connections and how epiphanies often occur in idle moments. Also, considering how talky the concept is, he manages to jimmy in some cinematic brio, with lovely high contrast black-and-white imagery and snatches of music, from Mahler to doo-wop, perfectly punctuating the pauses in patter.

One for the Jarmusch faithful perhaps, but at its best this anthology is as stimulating and addictive as its title. Like a cinematic concept album, there are some middling tracks – but when it hits, it's terrific.