What you need to know about Fading Gigolo: The romantic comedy stars John Turturro as a middle-aged male prostitute. And Woody Allen plays his best friend and “pimp.”
Either you find that idea funny or you don’t. And if you do, you’ll probably enjoy this most peculiar comedy more than most. The movie uses their easy working chemistry as one of its best assets, and it also use that risky premise as its comic, launching-pad point, as it also takes some strangely dark and poignantly dramatic turns at times.
Given its uneven tone, the film is a little more challenging than it probably needs to be. And sure, the Deuce Bigalow movies did a few similar things, albeit in a much-sleazier, less-inspired fashion (especially the 2005 sequel, European Gigolo). But given that so few movies these days give any substantial screen time to talented, but supposedly “aging” character actors like Turturro and Liev Schreiber, you can’t help but appreciate it a little more.
Plus, Allen gets a chance to act in someone else’s movie for a change, and seems positively energized and enthusiastic about that prospect.
His longtime friend Turturro (who starred in Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters) wrote, directed and stars in this movie as its title character, Fioravonte, who makes a comfortable-enough living working part-time as a New York City florist.
His cash-strapped, book store owner friend, Murray (Allen), has a business proposition for him, though. Noting how the, ahem, unconventionally handsome Fioravonte can talk to/relate to the floral shop’s middle-aged female clientele, Murray suggests that he become a specialized “gigolo,” one who caters to that same group. And, of course, Murray would be his “manager,” ones who takes a cut for finding the lonely women who require Fioravonte’s “services.”
And not too surprisingly, his first few “customers” are satisfied, especially with the way he makes them feel at ease and feel appreciated. In fact, a couple of them seem a little too eager to have him return (Sharon Stone and Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara are pitching him the idea of a menage). However, Fioravonte has made the mistake of falling for Avigal (former Johnny Depp “life partner” Vanessa Paradis), a shy, inexperienced Rabbi’s widow.
Avigal, though, is being pursued by a jealous admirer, Dovi (Schreiber), who isn’t thrilled to see her keeping such “bad company.” And Murray has his own troubles, namely keeping the African-American family he supports well-fed and housed.
Moreso than any of his earlier films (this is Turturro’s fifth as a filmmaker), Fading Gigolo mimics the wry, often understated tone of several Allen films, as well as the long, dialogue-and-character-driven scene takes. And the film definitely has its share of laugh-out-loud moments, among them Murray adopting the pimp alter ego as “Danny Bongo.”
Where Turturro runs into trouble are the sometimes jarring tonal shifts. When the film finally turns serious, it’s almost deadly serious, and then it has a hard time changing back to the lighter comedy. There are also so many characters that not all of them get as fleshed-out as they should/need to be. (The ones played by Stone and Vergara are shallow but still somewhat amusing caricatures.)
The somewhat nebulous ending may bother some viewers as well, and so will the luxurious pacing (90 minutes turns out to be more than enough time for the movie). Luckily, there’s real chemistry between these actors. The cast-against-type Paradis (1999’s Girl on the Bridge) works well with both Turturro and Schreiber (Showtime’s Ray Donovan). And the hilarious, line-swapping scenes involving Turturro and Allen’s characters are more than enough to make this film worthwhile, particularly for fans of the two actor/directors.
Jeff Michael Vice can also be read reviewing comics and television for Big Shiny Robot! (www.bigshinyrobot.com), be heard reviewing films, television programs, comics, books, music and other things as part of The Geek Show Podcast (www.thegeekshowpodcast.com), and be seen reviewing films as part of Xfinity’s Big Movie Mouth-Off (www.facebook.com/BigMovieMouthOff).