Starring: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone
Director: John Turturro
Fading Gigolo lives up to its name by being lazily seductive – you probably shouldn’t fall for it, but you do. The story won’t win any awards for gritty realism. New Yorker Murray (Woody Allen), bitter and strapped for cash after his beloved second-hand bookshop goes belly up, comes up with the idea of pimping out his friend Fioravante (John Turturro), a part-time florist, to his horny dermatologist (Sharon Stone). Against all the odds, Fioravante turns out to have a knack for this sort of work, and they soon have a thriving concern on their hands with an eager clientele. But when Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), the widow of a highly respected rabbi, starts benefiting from Fioravanti’s attentions, their activities arouse the suspicions of Dovi (Liev Schreiber), a member of an Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood patrol.
It’s a plotline that tilts towards wish-fulfilment for writer/director John Turturro. His Fioravanti is an unworldly soul who has always eschewed the rat race, and who can only turn to being a male prostitute because he allows himself to be persuaded that comforting needy, depressed, insecure women is a noble calling. But pushing the film the other way are all the female characters, who are vividly individualized, with plenty to say for themselves, and dazzling cast – especially Sofia Vergara’s cougarish Selima, and Vanessa Paradis’ touching widow, hemmed in by her grief, her own beliefs and the expectations of her community: the rawness and realness of her situation is a reprimand to Fioravanti, who can only be so glib and smooth because he is so detached from ordinary responsibilities.
Given that Woody Allen has a prominent supporting role, it’s hard not to think of this as in some sense a Woody Allen film, but actually it all feels much grimier and more hip than if Allen had helmed it himself. It’s even quite sexy at times (not in Allen’s scenes, perish forbid). Turturro’s direction shows a keen sense of place – this is a story that couldn’t occur anywhere else but within these few city blocks – and a brash way with New York’s multicultural melting pot, most noticeably in the fashion in which it makes the city’s Orthodox Jewish community a key plot-point and butt of mockery.
Whatever you think of it, his decision to do this undoubtedly vitalizes the film, as does his handling of Allen, who is more consistently funny here than he has been in years, especially in a scene where he is strong-armed into a car with tinted windows by a bunch of heavies with sidecurls and scuttles straight out the other side – Allen, it turns out, can still do physical comedy. Unlike Fiorvanti, who has his scruples, Murray is all about the cash. You could wag a finger and say “Jewish stereotype”, but it doesn’t feel that way because Allen seems only too delighted to play the rogue.
Another of the movie’s saving graces is an ongoing theme that develops over time. We see Fioravanti arranging flowers with delicate hands, we see Avigal meticulously boning a fish. If flowers and fish are to be savoured, the message seems to be, there’s a correct way of doing these things, one that requires patience, and your whole life should be treated with a similar fastidiousness and attention to detail. Instant gratification is no gratification at all. Not a bad moral to take away from a movie about a male hooker.