Directed by: John Turturro.
Written by: John Turturro.
Starring: John Turturro (Fioravante), Woody Allen (Murray), Vanessa Paradis (Avigal), Liev Schreiber (Dovi), Sharon Stone (Dr. Parker), Sofía Vergara (Selima), Bob Balaban (Sol), Loan Chabanol (Loan).
There are moments in nearly every scene of John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo that I quite enjoyed. The film is filled with some fine performances, humorous moments, and moments of surprising tenderness and emotion. The problem for me is that none of them ever really come together to make a cohesive whole. It’s almost as if Turturro is making two different movies – a sex comedy about a middle aged, normal looking man who becomes an unlikely gigolo and a tender romance between that same man and a widow of a Hasidic Jewish rabbi, who has grown lonely since her husband’s death. Had he followed one path or another, perhaps he could have made a very good movie. But because he tried to do both, he ends up doing justice to neither – and there seems to be a lot of necessary connecting tissue that isn’t in the movie. The Turturro character himself doesn’t seem to be the same person in each of the two halves of the film.
Turturro stars as a man living in New York who needs money. He works part time at a flower shop, and part time at a used and rare book store run by his best friend Murray (Woody Allen) – who has had to close up shop. In one of those things that only happens in the movies, Murray’s dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) mentions that she has always wanted to have a ménage a trois with her best friend Selima (Sofia Vergara) and a man – and is wondering if Murray knows anyone. He thinks of his friend, Fioravante (Turturro) – and tells him this could be a good way to make extra money – with Murray, as his pimp, taking a small percentage of course (a 60-40 split seems fair to him). Parker wants a “test drive” with him, and it goes well, so Murray starts finding him other clients, and the money starts rolling in. Then Murray finds an abnormal client – Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) – the widow of a rabbi in a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn. She seems lonely – because she is. She has a lot of children, but hasn’t been touched by a man since her husband died. Murray thinks that Fioravante could help bring her out of her shell a little bit. What neither of them count on however is that he would start to have deeper feelings for her than he does for the rest of the women he “services”.
Parts of Fading Gigolo work quite well. This is Allen’s best performance in quite some time – although in part that’s because he has only cast himself in two of his own movies for the past decade, and those two (Scoop and To Rome with Love) are among the worst movies he has ever made. I cannot help but wonder if Turturro let Allen write some of his own dialogue – if not, than Turturro does an excellent job at mimicking Allen’s writing style as Murray could very easily be an Allen creation. Turturro’s direction owes a debt to Allen as well – along with Spike Lee, who Turturro has worked with often – as he lovingly shoots New York combining the different styles of those two directors. The rest of the performances are fine as well – Paradis, although she undeniably still sounds French – is quite good as the shy, quiet woman slowly emerging from her grief and Stone and Vergara have great fun as a pair of vulgar, rich women lusting after Turturro. Turturro is fine on a scene by scene basis – but the performance never really comes together. He’s in full comic mode when paired with Allen, he’s putting on an act with Stone and Vergara, and he’s tender and sweet with Paradis. While each of these aspects of his character work in their individual moments, they never come together – I almost felt like I was watching different characters played by the same actor.
That pretty much describes the movie as well – that in the individual moments, it works just fine, but when taken as a whole, it doesn’t really work at all. As a writer and director, Turturro needed to find a way to make everything come together, and it never really does. This was a problem with his last film as a writer/director as well – Romance & Cigarettes – but that film had the benefit of being an ambitious, working class musical, full of great performances, that helped plaster over the scripts weak spots. Fading Gigolo never really does that. The film is an amusing diversion, but could have – and should have – been something better.