Although Charming, 'Fading Gigolo' Misses The Mark In Pimp Comedy
When you hear the term "pimp and ho," the first two people who come to mind surely wouldn't be Woody Allen and John Turturro. But in Fading Gigolo, out in theaters today, the pair explores the world's oldest profession together in a comedy with some heavy undertones.
Although Fading Gigolo is an 100-percent Turturro production—the fifth film that he's written and directed—it's hard to separate Allen from just being an actor in the movie. Even the opening moments of the film, upbeat jazz is playing in the background, a familiar characteristic of the Annie Hall filmmaker's work. It's a rare move for Allen to star in a movie without having written or directed it. There's also the elephant in the room: Allen's recent troubles in the media, stemming from sexual assault allegations from Dylan Farrow. We have to wonder if movie-goers will have a difficult time distancing Allen's personal life from his acting roles, and how they might cringe at the idea of him portraying a pimp.
However folks may feel about Allen, Turturro wrote some of the funniest lines in the film for him. Allen does admittedly steal the show with his jittery delivery on jokes about Zoloft and the like; he shines in this role. While Allen's character Murray is a fast talker, Turturro's Fioravante is a man of few words. A simple look from Fioravante is sometimes enough to tell a story. Turturro brings to this role a heartfelt dedication as he has with other films like Barton Fink or O Brother, Where Art Thou?. A thoughtful and sensitive man, Fioravante also works as a part-time florist, and it seems like he hasn't fallen in love with "the one"...yet.
Allen's trademark neuroses seep out immediately in his Murray character (once again making this feel like a classic Allen picture) as he hems and haws over his vintage bookstore closing down; it's a place where Fioravante has been working at ever since he broke into Murray's bookstore as a kid. They've been friends for a long time and that friendship feels mostly effortless and natural.
When the two are strapped for cash, Murray gets the seed for an idea planted in his head that he should pimp Fioravante out to his dermatologist, lonely and beautiful Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) who can barely get a glance from her busy husband. While Fioravante blasts Murray's Don Juan idea for being preposterous since he doesn't believe he's conventionally handsome, Murray tells him he has a certain sex appeal and asks him, "Is Mick Jagger a beautiful man?" And we can see for a split second what Murray is talking about—there is a rugged toughness layered with a mysterious quality about Fioravante. After some (very) brief convincing Murray has to do, Fioravante agrees to his hustling plans (because the film needs to move on with the plot, obviously). And as viewers, we have to suspend belief for a moment that Fioravante is like a god in bed to women.
As Fading Gigolo develops, Dr. Parker and her hot bestie Selima (Sofia Vergara), look to continue their sexual escapades with a ménage à trois with Fioravante. The two are beautiful and exude so much sexuality, it's hard to think that they'd have to dole out cash to get sex from a man; however, they have a void, a loneliness that Fioravante seems to fulfill.
Murray decides he'll take a 40-percent cut of the $1,000 or so multiple cash payments Fioravante receives, and that his pimp pseudonym is now "Dan Bongo." He also brings to his gigolo a new client, Avigal (in French actress Vanessa Paradis' debut English-speaking role), who is the repressed widow of a Hasidic rabbi and mother of six children. Her religion holds her back from ever having kissed a man, not even her late husband. But she's curious and admits to reading books she's not allowed to. She lets her hair down to have chats with Fioravante over dinner and even teaches him how to gingerly debone a fish. It's a charming and innocent relationship and the two immediately connect. It's interesting to be in Avigal's world and get a peek inside her mind.
Turturro does succeed in bringing an emotionality to Avigal's character, who feels free for the first time in her life as he slowly helps her out of her shell. Theirs is a more developed relationship than the one he gives Murray and Othella (Tonya Perkins). It's unclear what their connection is, whether she is his wife or someone he feels responsible for taking care of as well as her children. There is never any intimacy between the two and the fact that she that she is stoked at the fact Murray bought her a fancy couch doesn't add much to the story between them. The audience is left in the dark about this and it's never clear why.
Fading Gigolo examines Orthodox Jewish culture, yet it's not quite clear if Turturro's making a statement about the religion. However, he takes us again into a largely unfamiliar world— a non-hipster Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Liev Schreiber portrays Dovi, a neighborhood patrolman in a section of a Hasidic Williamsburg who pines for Avigal and is jealous of her mysterious relationship with Fioravante. And at one point Dovi takes Murray to face an Orthodox Jewish tribunal in what is supposed to a comedic act, but rather falls flat. Allen tells the patrolmen, “I think you’ve got the wrong guy. I’ve already been circumcised!"
The film takes turns from quirky comedy to a deeper talk about religion and loneliness. It's a lot to take on in a 90-minute flick. Although there are tender moments to this outlandish film and some stellar acting from Turturro and Paradis, it's not enough to make Fading Gigolo cohesive enough to stand on its own.