Coffee and Cigarettes



I’ve never been a huge fan of Jim Jarmusch. The director of such indie classics as Stranger Than Paradise (1983) and Mystery Train (1989) and Dead Man (1995) seems to be lauded for what he represents rather than what he actually accomplishes. By self-consciously bucking narrative trends, by putting together unique combinations of actors and musicians, by filming in black and white, the man is a godhead for that genre of film that guys attend with that chick from the coffee shop with the black beret and nose ring who is studying “textiles” at college but who “really wants to change things, man.” Jim Jarmusch may get you laid, but you’ll have to endure two hours of navel-gazing and existential foofaraw to get there. But wait. Tom Waits is in this film! It’s got to be good. And Iggy Pop! And Jack and Meg White! And it’s about people sitting around smoking and drinking coffee! How cool is that? But, no matter how hard you want it to be cool, it’s not. It’s boring and pointless. “Well, you just didn’t get it then,” people will say. They’re right. Absolutely right. I don’t get it. I don’t get why people think Jarmusch is a genius or why they think Tom Waits is an actor or why I should spend $8 on a film where nothing funny, revelatory, dramatic or mildly interesting ever happens. This film may be required viewing for those who would rather cut their wrists than admit at their next cocktail party they missed the latest Jarmusch flick, but Emperor Jim is not wearing any clothes.

The film is a collection of vignettes, all shot in cool black and white, in cool coffee shops and cool restaurants and cool bars with cool cultural icons drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes. Iggy Pop tries to be friendly with a defensive Tom Waits. Jack White talks about Nikola Tesla with his ex-wife. Bill Murray is a cook talking to members of the Wu Tang Clan about holistic health. Cate Blanchett talks to her cousin (played also by Cate Blanchett) in an expensive hotel lobby. Steve Buscemi annoys Joi Lee and Cinque Lee. Steven Wright and Roberto Benigni exchange opinions on coffee and dental appointments. On paper, this would appear to work. But somehow it doesn’t. The acting is passable, the locales are interesting, the premise could really have gone somewhere. The problem, with the exception of some interesting bits on the aforementioned Tesla, is that Jarmusch gives them absolutely nothing to say. Oh, is that the joke? Oh, I get it.

Well, then. Thanks, Jim.

Thanks for nothing.


Showing exclusively at the Uptown Birmingham 8, 211 S. Old Woodward, Birmingham. Call 248-644-FILM.

Dan DeMaggio writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail