That No Talent Ass-Clown
Will it ever be possible to see Roberto Benigni and not hate him? I found myself asking that question as I watched Jim Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes, the opening scene of which features the above "comic" "actor" alongside personal hero Steven Wright. The whole thing felt off, and I want to blame Benigni. The scene opens with him drinking coffee, and that just annoyed me. He's Roberto Benigni! He doesn't need coffee, especially with that much sugar. That instant filled me with dread. Watching Benigni fidget as he stirs in more sugar felt wrong. But I know I can't blame this on Benigni, especially with Jarmusch's awkward script. That doesn't mean that the situation was awkward, but that the awkwardness that should have arisen needed to feel more natural. Jarmusch nails the right tone in later segments, particularly "Twins" and "Renee", but here it feels as if Jarmusch saw some great talent to work with and couldn't find the right words to put in their mouths. The same thing happens in "Cousins", which features a conversation between Cate Blanchett and Cate Blanchett. "Cousins", at least, derives some humor from the visuals it presents; the normal checkered table or tablecloth is replaced by a checkered pattern on the coffee glasses and the staid room that does not allow smoking works as a better foil for Blanchett's Shelly than Blanchett's Cate.
Is it irresponsible to blame Roberto Benigni for his work in one of the worst scenes in Coffee and Cigarettes? Of course I would get away with it; after Life Is Beautiful, Benigni has been decried as a terrible actor, and one whose very presence can take down a movie. How does he look in his other collaborations with Jarmusch, the much lauded Night on Earth and Down By Law? His presence was a major bringdown to Coffee and Cigarettes. Is it possible to overlook his most famous role when watching him elsewhere?