Reviewed for the Miami International Film Festival 2014.
It’s easy to sum up Fading Gigolo in a couple of words. In fact, one of its own characters does that for me with six simple words: “You bring magic to the lonely.” It might sound dramatic, romantic, and/or silly to you, because it could be any of the three. And John Turturro’s latest film — in which he writes, directs, and acts — is all of the above.
So how does this film, or rather its character, bring magic to the lonely? Well, Fioravante (Turturro) is a prostitute. Only on the side though; working in a flower shop by day doesn’t pay all the bills, apparently. Did I mention Woody Allen is his pimp? He takes on all kinds of women, with the most notable being a rich dermatologist (Sharon Stone) and a religious widow (Vanessa Paradis), which results in some pretty good scenes. Stone and Turturro’s first meeting in particular is one that works on almost every level. When he brings her flowers, something you’d never expect from a sex worker in a film, it’s amusing. When the two act like a pair of teens who have never kissed before, it’s almost sweet to witness. And when the two dance together, the sensuality is through the roof. A constant focus on the reds in each frame helps to push that almost sensual notion that an arguably light-hearted film about sex work needs, and the jazzy music that fills the air is just as effective. It’s clear Turturro knows what he’s doing as a director and as an actor; as a writer though, things are a little less sure.
Even though it boasts a diverse cast, something that is surprisingly lacking at times in New York set projects, its gender politics are a little loopy. At times it seems Turturro longs to make interesting points about the way that women in certain communities are forced into limiting roles, with Paradis’ Hasidic widow proving to be the perfect way to deliver those thoughts. Placing her development alongside a character with an abundance of male entitlement like Liev Schreiber’s neighborhood watch dog is a smart choice, contrasting the levels of privilege allowed to men and women by a religion that seems oppressive to those not involved. But even then, it takes a man’s touch to almost set her free from the heavy weight of her husband’s death, and it’s a shame she couldn’t reach that conclusion on her own. And as nice as it is to have Sharon Stone and Sofía Vergara remind the world why they’re so beautiful with their legs and breasts and what not — I was seriously waiting for Stone to hit us with a Basic Instinct shot at one point — it’s a little boring to see them depicted as these near crazy women who may or may not be bisexual but desperately need a man’s touch. We get it; Fioravante works with flowers, flowers are vaginas, therefore he’s good with his hands. It’s a silly enough concept for a sketch, but its not exactly the best thing to sustain a feature film with.
That reason is exactly why the thing to be most thankful for in Fading Gigolo is Woody Allen. Now, the man may not have as much talent as he used to, but his performance here is probably his best in decades, and that’s something to be surprised (and thankful) about. The comic spirit of his work lingers in the air of Turturro’s film, to the point where it often seems like Allen himself is the real star. All those little witticisms he delivers lifts the film’s writing from mediocre to enjoyable, and it’s something incredibly refreshing once some of the main plots aspects start to grow tiresome. It’s a bit of a shame to have to praise a film’s supporting actor over everything else, but at this point in the game, it’s just nice to see Allen dishing out some good work — not that I didn’t love Midnight in Paris, but he didn’t exactly act in that.
As appreciative as I am of films that want to showcase sexuality through a mature scope, it’s often something more interesting to explore through drama than comedy. With John Turturro meandering between both in Fading Gigolo, he leaves himself and the audience with a work that’s pleasant, but not much more than that.
Directed by John Turturro; written by John Turturro; starring John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sofía Vergara, Vanessa Paradis, and Liev Schreiber; 98 minutes.