Young, Talented Cast Gives a Spark to ‘200 Cigarettes’
When people celebrate New Year’s Eve, they feel they’ve just got to have fun--and that of course means having someone important in your life to enjoy it with. Director Risa Bramon Garcia and writer Shana Larsen, in their ruefully breezy “200 Cigarettes,” zero in on a large group of young New Yorkers out to have a good time on New Year’s Eve, 1981, yet because it is this particular holiday--a time for taking stock of one’s life--it means that many of them are looking for love more than they realize.
Why the filmmakers pick 1981 rather than a more recent year is not all that clear on the screen, but the flowering of the self-absorbed Me Decade is surely part of their point. And it does allow them to work in lots of potent vintage music, epitomized by Elvis Costello, on the soundtrack (and in a cameo).
The film’s title refers to a carton of cigarettes bought by Lucy (Courtney Love) for her friend Kevin (Paul Rudd) for his birthday, who late in the film observes that smoking cigarettes can be a way of keeping people from having “meaningful interaction” with one another. What goes on in the film seems no different from what goes on now, except that most everyone smokes lots more than they do today.
Lucy and Kevin are arguably the film’s key among many couples. Friends for five years, they are dateless--but as the evening progresses they begin to wonder whether they can be more than friends. Kevin is down in the dumps because he’s just lost his girlfriend Ellie (Janeane Garofalo), while Lucy, having set her sights on a sexy bartender (Ben Affleck), is determined to get a kick out of the evening. This same bartender also has attracted two friends, Caitlyn (Angela Featherstone) and Bridget (Nicole Parker), who breaks it off with her boyfriend Eric (Brian McCardie). (Amusingly, the bartender sabotages his charisma when he finally opens his mouth with such off-putting lines as “Well, girls, would you like your eggs scrambled or fertilized?”)
Eric goes on alone to a party at the East Village apartment of his former girlfriend Monica (Martha Plimpton), who is coming apart in fear that nobody will show up besides her best friend Hilary (Catherine Kellner), who takes off, promising to return. That leaves Eric and Monica alone--and Eric inadvertently forces Monica to admit he is the worst lover she ever had--"including high school.”
Then there are Christina Ricci’s adventuresome Val and her reluctant, complaining and scared pal Stephie (Gaby Hoffmann), a couple of garish girls from Long Island lost in the East Village and winding up in a rock club, where they meet punk types Tom (Casey Affleck) and orange-haired Dave (Guillermo Diaz). In a glossier section of Manhattan, Cindy (Kate Hudson), a pretty klutz, is professing love to womanizer Jack (Jay Mohr), to whom she lost her virginity the night before. Weaving through the film’s intersecting plots is irrepressible, advice-giving Disco Cabbie (Dave Chappelle).
The filmmakers strike a deft balance between humor and sentiment, and their movie’s large cast reminds you of the abundance of talented and attractive young people on the screen these days. Performances are remarkably even, but some roles are a tad bigger than others, which may be the reason why Love, Rudd, Plimpton, Hudson and Chappelle have been able to make perhaps the strongest impressions. Love clearly can play comedy as effectively as she did drama (“The People vs. Larry Flynt”). As for Hudson, this film marks the Hollywood film debut of this lovely and poised actress, the daughter of Goldie Hawn and singer Bill Hudson.
“200 Cigarettes” is a light comedy, pure and simple (and hardly unfamiliar), but its makers sustain its energy through the unraveling of an intricate plot and bring to it a certain edge through a witty, sharp sense of observation.
* MPAA rating: R, for strong language and sexual content. Times guidelines: language, adult themes and situations.
Ben Affleck: Bartender
Casey Affleck: Tom
Dave Chappelle: Disco Cabbie
Angela Featherstone: Caitlyn
Courtney Love: Lucy
Jay Mohr: Jack
Martha Plimpton: Monica
Christina Ricci: Val
Paul Rudd: Kevin
A Paramount Pictures and Lakeshore Entertainment presentation in association with MTV Films and Dogstar Films. Director Risa Bramon Garcia. Producers Betsy Beers, David Gale, Van Toffler. Executive producers Tom Rosenberg, Mike Newell, Alan Greenspan, Ted Tannebaum, Sigurjon Sighvatsson. Screenplay by Shana Larsen. Cinematographer Frank Prinzi. Editor Lisa Zeno Churgin. Music Bob and Mark Mothersbaugh.. Costumes Susan Lyall. Production designer Ina Mayhew. Art director Judy Rhee. Set decorator Paul Weathered. Running time: 1 hour,41 minutes.
In general release.