John Turturro writes, directs, and stars. He plays a quiet, shy, easy-going florist who turns to prostitution for a little extra money.
Prostitution and Orthodoxy
R for some sexual content, language and brief nudity
As implausible as it sounds, it almost makes sense in the context of Fading Gigolo. Firoavante (Turturro) is a long-time friend of Murray (Woody Allen, playing... Woody Allen). Murray runs a book shop, and he’s always on the lookout for a deal. In a very Allen-esque, bantering dialogue he mentions he overheard that his skin doctor and her girlfriend (Sharon Stone and Sofía Vergara) wanted a menage. Murray thought of Fioravante.
It sounds like a mere Woody Allen joke, but a few scenes later, Fioravante consummates the deal. Murray keeps 40% for himself. “I’m you ho,” says Turturro in his wallflower deadpan.
The major subplot involves a young, shy widow named Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a member of an orthodox Jewish community in New York whose path seems destined to cross with Fioravante. She is carefully watched over by Dovi (Live Schreiber), a sort of Orthodox Community Watch patrolman, complete with uniform, bulletproof vest and cruiser. Bob Balaban makes an appearance later in the film as Sol, an advocate in an Orthodox courtroom.
I didn’t know there were religious police in this country — well, perhaps the Mormon Fundamentalist towns in the middle of the desert, but apparently there are Jewish communities in New York where people like Dovi form an orthodox vigilante posse and people like Sol sit in religious judgment. A Jewish friend assures me it’s not made-up. America. What a country.
New York Ensemble
Fading Gigolo has a few shining moments, usually when Woody Allen gets free rein to do his schtick. Writer/director Turturro puts Allen in a black household and asks him to interact with four boys as a father figure. A 78-year-old Allen playing baseball with several pre-teen African Americans is something I wouldn’t have expected to see, but there it is.
And as comically unlikely as a lot of the film’s premises sounds on paper, Turturro and his cast manage to make the them feel justified. For example, a woman paying for a mature, shy prostitute gains a modicum of control and discretion, compared to an extramarital affair.
But Turturro’s film doesn’t make a big, lasting impression. Fading Gigolo is set up as an ensemble drama. One gets the impression Turturro wanted to work with some good New York actors and wrote a script to accommodate everybody. It’s a decent little project, but not something that was intended to shake up cinema as we know it.
See it if you long for the strangeness of New York City, where you really can buy anything at any time of day. Otherwise, pass.