As a comedy about the world’s oldest profession(and the second one), “Fading Gigolo” caresses, curdles, massages, and tickles its story and characters while not going a lot into its carnal affairs. Although it occasionally shows humor and poignancy while handling its subject with sensitivity and taste, everything in the movie passes off so lightly and mildly that we only get occasional amusements from its lightweight foreplay, and it quickly evaporates from our memory when it is over.
Anyway, the movie drew lots of attention before its release mainly because this is a rare occasion in which Woody Allen plays in a film not directed or written by himself, and the movie confirms us again how inseparable Allen is from that talky, neurotic screen persona we have encountered through many of his works. He is simply playing Woody Allen character here in this film, and I must say the movie sometimes felt like his work rather than the director/writer/lead actor John Turturro’s as I watched Allen walking around the streets of New York or delivering funny lines on the screen.
The story starts with his character’s recent economic problem. Murray(Woody Allen) has been the owner of an old bookstore, but now he has no choice but to close his bookstore because of his declining business. As talking with his close friend Fioravante(John Turturro), Murray suggests one idea which may financially benefits both of them; his dermatologist Dr. Parker(Sharon Stone) is looking for someone to satisfy her sexual need, and Murray wants to earn some money to support his family through brokering the meeting between his friend and her.
Fioravante, who already has a job to earn his living(he works in a florist shop), is naturally reluctant about being a part-time worker of the world’s oldest profession, but he eventually accepts Murray’s proposal, and we see his first trial at Dr. Parker’s nice expensive apartment in Manhattan. As satisfying her need, he turns out to be a better service worker than expected, and he gets paid more than promised as a consequence. He is soon introduced to another client, and Selima(Sofía Vergara) also enjoys her time with him, while looking forward to having a ménage à trois with him and Dr. Parker someday.
Virtually operating as his friend’s pimp, Murray continues to connect his friend with other female clients, and then he happens to meet Avigal(Vanessa Paradis), a beautiful Hassidic widow who has been going through her lonely grief since her rabbi husband’s death. Murray manages to persuade her to meet his friend despite her reluctance, so she goes to Fioravante’s residence where he is ready to take care of her body during their private meeting.
While they do not have a sex, Fioravante comes to release something inside her as he tenderly touches and massages her bareback, and they become a little more than a client and a service worker as they have more appointed meetings. They have a cozy little dinner at one point, and then they walk together alone in the park later as enjoying each other’s company. Fioravante is always sincere and generous to Avigal like he is to his other clients in his usual reserved attitude, and she finds herself crossing the line a bit to get a little closer to this kind man to whom she is very grateful for his valuable service.
Of course, there comes the point where things get more serious as personal feelings are mixed into this circumstance, and the conflict in the story is mainly generated through Dovi(Liev Schreiber), a neighbourhood watch patrol guy in Avigal’s Brooklyn neighbourhood. Mainly because they belong to an orthodox Jewish community where religion and traditions are strictly respected, the recent change in Avigal’s appearance certainly raises the eyebrows of others including neighborhood elders, and Dovi, who has been carrying a torch for the woman he grew up with, becomes curious about where she goes and whom she meets.
While giving a low-key lead performance, John Turturro imbues his film with the mildly amiable tone for his tentative tale. His scenes with his co-actresses are presented with tactful sensuality, and Vanessa Paradis is especially good as the camera calmly focuses on her face during her character’s first meeting with Fioravante. The movie does not tell us a lot about Fioravante except that he is a decent likable guy, but we see instead Murray’s busy home life with his no-nonsense girlfriend(Tonya Pinkins) and her kids, and Allen has a small humorous moment in which he tries to make Avigal’s kids play baseball with his girlfriend’s kids.
But the movie somehow never takes off from its premise while losing its way between comedy and drama. It becomes unfocused as approaching to its finale, and it resolves its emotional matters too easily without much payoff. I am also not sure about whether a certain silly scene involved with a bunch of rabbis works; the scene itself is not without fun, but it looks like belonging to a different kind of movie due to its absurd depiction which almost approaches to the level of caricature, and it becomes more distracting as it is intercut with the other scene which is more serious in comparison.
I cannot wholly recommend “Fading Gigolo” to you because of its weak aspects, but it does not entirely lack enjoyable things. Turturro and Allen work well together in front of the camera, and I think the movie could have been better if it had focused more on their amusing partnership. I understand it does not intend to be realistic as a comedy, and I can accept the artificial elements in the story, but the result is too mild and courteous to hold my attention, and now my mind is thinking about what to watch next rather than looking back on it.
Reminds of midnight cowboy…sure this must be more sophisticated with Woody Allen around….
SC: This is more like a romantic fantasy compared to that gritty urban film.