Fading Gigolo (2013) / Comedy

MPAA Rated: R for some sexual content, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 90 min.

Cast: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Jill Scott, Bob Balaban, Tonya Pinkins, Jade Dixon
Director: John Turturro
Screenplay: John Turturro

Review published May 5, 2014

John Turturro (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Cars 2) writes, directs and stars as Fioravante, a sometimes-florist whose money issues compel him to take up his struggling bookstore owner friend Murray's (Allen, To Rome with Love) offer to become a male escort.  It starts with a conversation with a woman (Stone, Lovelace) Myrray knows who quizzes him on how she can find a man who will perform in a 'menage' with her and a friend (Vergara, Machete Kills).  Murray quips that he can but it would cost her a thousand bucks. When she agrees to the price, he takes it more seriously, and now that Fioravante is amenable, he continues their hot streak by trying to find more women who are either lonely or have particular needs they find hard to fulfill, and are willing to pay top dollar for their services.

Woody Allen co-stars in a performance that Turturro had written with him specifically in mind, though he isn't given nearly as many choice lines to deliver as he might in his own comedies.  Turturro may keep things amusing in tone, but he doesn't have Allen's gift for gags.  Nevertheless, Allen, though hamming it up to a substantial degree, does imbue his scenes with the kind of comedic life that's sorely needed throughout the rest.  There are farcical elements to the story, but the film itself isn't much of a farce, seemingly more concerned with being a semi-character study about lonely people who find a sort of way to connect by breaking through barriers of their own making.

The major issues of Fading Gigolo don't come through the direction or cast, or even the writing per se, so much as Turturro's plotting.  First, there's very little setup before we're thrust into the world of the high-priced gigolo, and not enough contemplation of the ramifications before Fioravante jumps all in feet first.  Then there is the casting, in which the women that amateur pimp scrounges up all happen to be extremely beautiful, smart, wealthy and sophisticated -- all easily able to find their own boy toys any day of the week at no cost at all.  Why they would pay for $1000 a pop for an inexperienced middle-aged man who, let's face it, doesn't look like George Clooney is beyond basic narrative comprehension, especially as he seems only begrudgingly interested in the sex itself. 

Things get a bit ore interesting when Fioravante is hired (sorta) to be a relatively chaste masseur for a repressed Hasidic widow named Avigal (Paradis, The Girl on the Bridge).  Paradis, looking perhaps too amazing for a woman who has birthed six children, does so much with so little in her character such that, even if where things go seems increasingly farfetched, her character and interplay with Fioravante feels refreshing and natural.  Unfortunately, this budding romance is undercut by an overbearing side story involving would-be suitor, Dovi (Schreiber, The Butler), a patrolman for the Hasidic neighborhood they reside in, who has been anxiously waiting for Avigal to get over her dead husband and be open to courtship from him. 

If nothing else, Turturro does show a rich understanding patchwork melting-pot communities that exist in the boroughs of New York, especially in Brooklyn.  Various aspects, such as the Shomrim (aka, the Jewish neighborhood watch) and rabbinic tribunals, are things rarely seen on film.  Though various ethnicities are largely concentrated into homogenous neighborhoods, Turturro is able to mix it up to a good degree, and unlike what Allen himself often tends to do, he doesn't limit his exposure to just the upper class.  They're all very different, and though there is occasional friction, they've managed to coexist in ways this film spotlights with great understanding.

If it's a decent "New York" movie, it's just too ramshackle in its storytelling to be much of anything else.  Despite a very appealing cast, good locale work, sumptuous ethnic flavor, and a genial light touch, Fading Gigolo doesn't leave much of an impression as it fades from memory not long after it fades to black.

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo