Directed by: John Turturro
Starring: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Vanessa Paradis
There’s a moment towards the end of Fading Gigolo in which John Turturro’s eponymous Don Juan considers the emotional impact his services have on those who seek them. It’s a perfectly constructed scene, played with meticulous subtlety by Turturro, which explores the world’s oldest profession from a different, more compassionate angle. Yet within the same moment, Turturro (also on writer/director duties) less successfully tries to accentuate just how much his character Fioravante is beginning to fall in love with Vanessa Paradis’ widowed Avigal, and questioning what impact this may have within her narrow-minded community. It’s a scene that perfectly encapsulates the positives and negatives of this broad and bittersweet comedy, which brims with ideas while only managing to address a few.
Fioravante hasn’t really decided, but more been coerced in to his new profession by his best friend Murray. Acting as his pimp, Murray begins selling his friend’s services to rich Manhattan socialites; notably the beautiful Dr. Parker, who desires Fioravante’s skills to form the third wheel in a ménage with her best friend. Things become complicated however, when Murray enlists his friend’s services to help “heal” Avigal, a widow trapped by the confines of her insular Jewish community.
While it may sound seedy, Turturro’s narrative is instilled with remarkable honesty. Of course, many are likely to question the notion of Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara having to pay a man to join them in a threesome, which admittedly sounds preposterous on the surface, but there’s warmth, poignancy and realism to be found within the characters. At its heart, Fading Gigolo is a film about companionship, both monogamous and sociable.
It does fall flat at times, mainly when building the relationship between Fioravante and Avigal. Though their one-to-one encounters are tenderly heartfelt, the subplot on how their relationship is received in her local community, which takes far too much focus in the third act, is tonally unbalanced with the rest of the film and a waste of Liev Schreiber. Likewise, many of the scenes between Fioravante and Dr. Parker are underdeveloped. The film’s attempt to shine a light on her loveless marriage never rings true. Though Sharon Stone’s performance is confident, her character is never given enough room to progress beyond that of a bored housewife.
When focused on the friendship that forms its beating heart though, Fading Gigolo is an absolute joy. His own films not withstanding, this is Woody Allen’s first acting role in nearly 14 years and the moment you begin to hear his characteristically fast-paced dialogue, you immediately remember just how much of a comfortingly witty presence he is. Clearly written with the veteran actor/writer/director in mind, the many scenes between Allen’s Murray and Fioravante are laced with intelligence and humor; Allen’s infections deadpan delivery joyfully recalling memories of Annie Hall & Manhattan. Like those films, Gigolo is infused by the authentic chemistry of its two leads. While it may not have the substance to assuredly explore romantic relationships, Turturro’s script effortlessly captures the importance of lifelong friendships; bathing the film in a delightfully warming hue, further emphasised by the golden glow of its autumnal setting.
As a director, Turturro is one admirably driven by his own ideas. His last American film, Romance & Cigarettes, confidently (if overly theatrically) explored the breakdown of marriage through music. Here sadly, his determination to try and encompass so many thoughts and opinions causes Fading Gigolo to loose its way. However, the decision to give Woody Allen a lead role that so wonderfully harks back to his brilliant early performances may well be the best cinematic idea of the year.