Actor John Turturro is back in the writer and director’s chair for the fifth time with Fading Gigolo, a comedy that sees him star as a reluctant male escort with Woody Allen as an unlikely pimp.
When Murray (Allen) is forced to close down his bookstore, the possibility of being a pimp suddenly seems like an appealing prospect. The idea comes about when his dermatologist, played by Sharon Stone, informs him that she is interested in having a ménage à trois with her friend, played by Sofia Vergara, and a man that isn’t her husband. Murray thinks of his buddy, florist Fioravante (Turturro). So begins a business of sorts, until a Hasidic Jewish woman, played by Vanessa Paradis, provides Fioravante with a moral flip side.
Fading Gigolo is an arthouse comedy that desperately wants to be liked, but it is neither funny nor insightful enough to provide anything more than a tired chuckle. The issue lies with Turturro’s screenplay. An awkward mishmash of tones and points of view, the film tells an unlikely story in a series of clumsily staged sequences.
Once, or should I say if, you decide to accept Turturro’s sudden profession as a male gigolo, you must deal with a lead character that is neither vocal enough nor expressive enough for audiences to connect. Whether it be Turturro’s script or his performance is certainly a query to be had, but his Fioravante is frustratingly one-note, a man who seems constantly uncomfortable in his own skin, yet randomly confident in his demeanour. Why the females are besotted is a question that arises constantly, but not in the film.
Kudos to Turturro for his attempts at tackling “the world’s oldest profession” from some new angles, but these are not without issues. Once Paradis’ Jewish widow enters the picture, a whole new focus is placed on the film. This woman’s Hasidic Judaism, and the community in which she lives, is suddenly brought to the forefront in a subplot that is as bizarre as it is sweet. We are introduced to Liev Schreiber’s Dovi, an Orthodox neighborhood-patrol officer whose infatuation with this widow threatens to put a damper on her visits with this questionable gigolo. A love story develops between Fioravante and this widow, an expected development that just isn’t fleshed out properly. The film’s focus on this particular faith also fails to compliment the film, with too many moments played for laughs to drive home the messages of personal freedom within social confines.
Much of this film would be disposable would it not be for Woody Allen. Yes, that nebbish persona provides the film with a much-needed dose of energy and humour. It’s a fantastic performance, with Allen’s rants and musings never failing to amuse. His relationship with his African-American family is both interesting and amusing, but we don’t get to spend nearly enough time with this group of characters.
All in all, the film treads lightly, so lightly it barely makes a sound. Turturro’s simple direction and the film’s Jazz-heavy score should have this film on the radar of certain arthouse pundits, but there’s little here to recommend Fading Gigolo as anything more than forgettable.
THE REEL SCORE: 5/10