Perhaps the saddest thing about 200 Cigarettes is not that it’s bad, but that the whole exercise feels pointless. The film’s entire hook is that it’s New Year’s Eve, 1981 – see the funny clothes and hear the retro alternative sound track – but even that’s ineffectual. Despite fleeting references in Shana Larsen’s screenplay to the social shifts that are taking place – hello Reaganomics and safe sex – 200 Cigarettes could really take place anytime.
The film follows a group of arty New Yorkers – mostly poseurs and wannabes – as they make their way to an East Village party thrown by Monica (Martha Plimpton), who’s panic-stricken by the possibility that no one will show up. All her guests are in equally heightened states of anxiety because they have, in unison, chosen this particular night to re-evaluate their romantic attachments (mostly fleeting) and friendships (put to the test, but solid). It’s a long night, and not just for the film’s characters.
Director Risa Bramon Garcia’s background – stage director and film casting director – shows in her feature debut. She’s assembled a zeitgeist-worthy cast, but doesn’t really give them anything substantial to do.
Performances range wildly from Gaby Hoffmann’s dead-on nasal Long Island teen, to Dave Chappelle’s suitably smarmy disco cabbie, to Courtney Love’s clumsy attempt to embody a young, slatternly Bette Midler. Walk-on appearances are even worse: They break the flow of an already clumsy narrative. And some, like Elvis Costello, who looked quite different in 1981, are just embarrassing.
Simply view 200 Cigarettes like New Year’s Eve itself – a holiday when force-fed fun in large groups is considered mandatory – and opt to stay home instead.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.