If you could sit down and have a cup of coffee with anybody in the world alive today, who would you choose?
Filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has done even better than that. He's brought together many of his favorite pop culture figures and filmed them while they talk to each other over cups of coffee. He's been doing this for twenty years, and now moviegoers get to enjoy the results. Coffee and Cigarettes is a film for people who want something more than predictable entertainment. It's for people who love to watch people.
Coffee and Cigarettes is the latest experimental entry in a fascinating career. Jarmusch's consistently challenging and innovative work has earned him cult status in independent filmmaking circles. For this film, he abandoned plot entirely and instead focused on documenting a variety of amusing, thoughtful, sometimes surreal interactions between his former cast members and various other musicians, actors, and familiar pop culture figures. This isn't a documentary—the performers are working from sketchy scripts that lead to understated punchlines. But the pleasure of watching this collection of brief meetings is in the contrasting personalities, expressions, and improvisations that fill up the minimalist material.
Some of the meetings are more rewarding experiments than others.
The film opens with a meeting of spectacularly different personalities. The flamboyant and erratic Roberto Benigni—who starred in my favorite Jarmusch comedy Down by Law, as well as the Oscar-winning Life is Beautiful—joins comedian Steven Wright, whose photograph belongs next to the word "deadpan" in the dictionary. Benigni's faltering English and Wright's worried mumbling lead to a feeble-at-best conversation that culminates ...1