Never a big fan of conventional feature narrative structure, Jim Jarmusch again prefers to do it his way with “Coffee and Cigarettes,” a consistently amusing collection of 10 black-and-white shorts shot over the past two decades.
Featuring many of the actors and musicians who have appeared in his previous films, the anthology is assembled around a very basic foundation — a couple of people meet in a diner/lounge/dive over a cuppa joe (or, in a couple of cases, tea), light up a smoke and let life unfold.
Given the filmmaker’s penchant for the gently absurd, the results actually aren’t as potentially numbing as might be anticipated, especially when those inspired eccentric matchups include Iggy Pop and Tom Waits, Roberto Benigni and Steven Wright (circa 1986), White Stripes bandmates Jack White and Meg White accompanied by a spark-generating Nikola Tesla invention and Wu-Tang Clan hip-hoppers GZA and RZA dispensing holistic medicine tips to a coffee pot-chugging Bill Murray.
Those names and Jarmusch’s well-deserved following should ensure domestic distribution for the as-yet-unattached film, which was screened as a Toronto International Film Festival Special Presentation.
Stylistically something of a throwback to the director’s earlier black-and-white work, the monochromatics have been impressively furnished by several cinematographers, including Frederick Elmes (”Blue Velvet”), Robby Muller, Ellen Kuras and filmmaker Tom DiCillo.
Unsurprisingly, not every encounter turns out to be a gem. The ones that work most effectively are those that reveal some sticky truths about the trappings of celebrity, including partially improvised discussions between Waits and Pop, British actors Alfred Molina and Steve Coogan and, in the picture’s terrific centerpiece, a hotel lobby meeting between Cate Blanchett (playing herself) and her bitter rocker cousin (also, remarkably, Blanchett).
In Jarmusch’s capable hands, the mundane has never been so delightful.