Film Review: Fading Gigolo

Some top screen talent gets lost in the silliness surrounding the amorous adventures of an unlikely gigolo and his even more unlikely pimp, with writer/director/actor John Turturro the shtupper “ho” co-starring with Woody Allen as the merce

It’s hard to say who might be attracted to Fading Gigolo, beyond hardcore Woody Allen fans who get a huge dose of their idol as he again plays the neurotic nebbish obsessed with mortality, sex and himself, with enough familiar shtick to fill three Allen comedies. Older filmgoers but few others might embrace this opportunity, which also affords time with movie bait like Sharon Stone, Liev Schreiber and Vanessa Paradis, the French singer/star and onetime Johnny Depp partner.

As director, John Turturro has a number of feature films behind him, arguably the best being the 2010 documentary Passione, a passionate, colorful, music-filled exploration of the importance of love, song and street life to the soul of Naples, Italy. With Fading Gigolo, he makes a U-turn away, devising quite the fictional high concept and letting it spin out in disconnected shards of idiocy and excess.

The result translates to questionable taste in its confrontations with matters of money, lust, love, men and women. Uneasy, even queasy feelings linger. Much of the action takes place in the Hasidic community of Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, but in no way could the film’s look at the Satmar sect be construed as affectionate. Nor does the take on the main female characters impress as respectful.

The story kicks off with rare-bookstore owner Murray (Allen) forced to close his operation and floating a proposal to his part-time employee Fioravante (whose primary gig is as a florist) that they go into partnership. Murray’s wealthy, gorgeous and married skin doctor Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) has asked Murray to arrange a threesome with her and her hot Latina friend Selima (Sofia Vergara). Question one: What kind of moron would assign Murray such a chore?

Murray asks the initially demurring Fioravante to take the job, from which Murray, good with business terms, will pocket a percentage. Judging from his modest, crowded digs, Murray too needs bread, as he has some kind of live-in arrangement with Othella (Tonya Pinkins), an African-American mother with a gaggle of kids.

If Murray is both monetarily and voyeuristically motivated, Fioravante, as his name suggests, is a full-blooded male but also feeling a financial pinch. He takes Dr. Parker for a one-on-one spin in her trendy Tribeca loft and, with her husband conveniently off doing whatever such screen husbands do (this one’s a mountain-climber), performs phenomenally. It helps that the doctor shows off her body and, uh, baser instincts as a seductress.

Meanwhile, Murray finds his partner more gigolo opportunities and also finds himself in Brooklyn’s Hasidic community with Othella's kids. An accident occurs and he ends up in the nearby apartment of beautiful young widow Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), who tends to one of the kids’ cuts. In spite of her harsh clothes, she’s a looker still grieving the death of her rabbi husband years ago and further saddened that she has not been able to grow her family beyond her six children. Murray delivers subtle come-ons, preaching the virtues of passion, but remains restrained. Reading the woman’s grief and acting on his own greed, Murray imagines her as Fioravante’s next client. He suggests she pay visits to his “therapist” friend who, he reassures her, is a Sephardic Jew.

Also in this Hasidic scenario is Dovi (Liev Schreiber), a member of the local Satmar police patrol who pays close attention to the strangers visiting Avigal. He has had designs on her for years.

Avigal dares a visit to Fioravante, also clearly smitten by her. He gets to undress this client but only performs an oil massage. She’s finally smiles with pleasure; her life has been a grim one. There’s been no intimacy—not even a handshake allowed—since she lost her husband. And the Hasidic women are forbidden to read, are kept segregated from the men, etc.

Murray and Fioravante are raking in the money as the gigolo takes on more and more clients. Fioravante’s visit to a jazz club has him reconnecting with Dr. Parker, who unexpectedly accosts him with her reminder of the threesome she wants. Finally, the “ho” is at the point of taking on Dr. Parker and Selima together. The three are piled heaving high and low like a triple-decker sandwich, but true love gets in the way.

The narrative also offers a number of helter-skelter digressions, including one to a Brooklyn baseball field where Murray coaches the kids (call it shtick-ball). A later episode has Murray kidnapped and brought before three rebbe at a Hasidic court. Apparently, Murray’s accused of corrupting Avigal, but he has his lawyer Sol (Bob Balaban) by his side.

Fading Gigolo is pointless, except for suggesting theoretical insights into both Allen and Turturro. Might this exercise be Allen’s attempt to repent for largely redlining blacks and the lower classes out of his oeuvre? And might Turturro’s bid as an initially hesitant stud be a vehicle of hope proposing that it’s not just the hunky guy with conventional movie-star good looks who can get plenty of nookie? Or maybe Fading Gigolo is the cinematic expression of a real-life midlife crisis? It’s certainly a testimony to the power of cronyism. The soundtrack of many standards in soft-jazz renderings serves the film’s feel-good/have-fun intentions and reflects Allen’s taste.

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