Film Review – Fading Gigolo
Fading Gigolo (2013) tells the story of a man (John Turturro) who – in an effort to help his recently out of work friend (Woody Allen) – turns to prostitution to make a quick buck. On paper, this sounds funny. John Turturro has routinely produced odd balls and eccentrics, as his work with the Coen Brothers has proven. Woody Allen has made a career of playing nebbish, awkward neurotics. Seeing them bumble their way through the machinations of the sex business had the potential for hysterics. Sadly, the film (written and directed by Turturro) never shifts out of first gear. This could have made for a screwball comedy of the highest order, but Turturro’s approach doesn’t take it far enough. Strangely, for something that sounded so promising, it turned out to be quite restrained.
There’s too much refinement and not enough pies thrown into people’s faces here, if you catch my drift. Turturro shoots his environment (New York) with warm earth tones. Every scene has a shimmer of yellows and browns. The music is a combination of nostalgic jazz, Latin, and French sounds. Whether it is intended or not, the camera angles, dialogue scenes, and unmistakable New York aesthetics will call attention to the work of his very own costar. This is a world where going to fancy restaurants and drinking fine wine is considered recreational activities. In other words, Turturro made the film look like a classy romantic comedy. This starkly contrasts against the main premise, which would suggest more absurdist hijinks.
How else are we supposed to take it? Turturro plays Fioravante, a middle-aged man who works in a flower shop. One day, his good friend Murray (Allen) is forced to shut down the bookstore he’s owned since Fioravante was a little boy. Unfettered, Murray comes up with the lame-brained idea of turning Fioravante into a professional Don Juan. Take note, kids: if your friend volunteers you to sell your body for money, consider finding new friends. Working as Fioravante’s pimp, Murray sets up meetings with random women, lets Fioravante do his thing, and takes a small percentage. This scheme is completely bonkers, right? We expect both Murray and Fioravante to be out of their element, with their encounters with clientele to crash and burn. But no, Fioravante turns out to be quite adept at his new job, with many customers walking away satisfied.
That’s not a very funny punch line to the set up. In fact, the film’s biggest disappointment is that the comedy never draws any real laughs. Woody Allen does his best to inject energy into his lines, but it comes off as continuous blabber, as though he’s trying to arrive at the joke but it keeps eluding him. Fioravante is more or less a blank slate. We never delve into his character, and Turturro plays him strictly going through the motions. He seems to know by natural intuition how to please a woman, like he was born with these magical gifts. His main customers (Sharon Stone/Sofia Vergara) want his services desperately, to the point where they’re willing to share him at the same time. This all comes off as sad and a bit depressing, when the combination of John Turturro, Sharon Stone, and Sofia Vergara could have gone in the other direction.
We also have a very strange depiction of Hasidic Judaism here. Fioravante’s love interest is Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a shy Jewish girl, whose past relationships causes her to hesitate opening up to new people. Of course, that all changes when she meets the maestro of intimacy. Avigal is followed closely by Dovi (Liev Schreiber), who uses his position in the Jewish neighborhood patrol to monitor her movements. Dovi clearly has feelings for Avigal, and his jealousy puts both Fioravante and (especially) Murray in some hot water. Here’s another tip, kids: if your town is filled with older men working as prostitutes, as well as other men who stalk people under the protection of the neighborhood watch, consider moving away as quickly as possible. Is there something to be said about the strong presence of Hasidic Jews? Was it just a random artistic choice Turturro made to have them included? Much is made about how devoted certain characters are to their faith, but like everything else, it sort of tapers away like an afterthought.
I keep trying to think of something else to talk about, some element of Fading Gigolo worth mentioning. But it’s difficult to do so in a film as forgettable as this. Not to say it’s terrible. There isn’t a character or a situation or a theme grating away like some unbearable burden. I don’t actively despise it; I just don’t have any active feelings for it at all. Like it’s title, the memory of it fades almost as soon as we’re finished watching it. The faults lie in how it leaves such little resonance. Memorable actors fill unmemorable roles, speaking words that flutter into nothingness as soon as they’re spoken.[vimeo 84889769 w=630&h=354]