Though many might question the entertainment value of a movie written and directed by John Turturro that stars himself as a male prostitute that is pimped out by Woody Allen, Fading Gigolo has certainly received a lot of attention for it’s out-of-the-box casting and premise. On top of that, it has a number of surprisingly sweet moments for a movie with “Gigolo” in the title.
Murray (Allen) and Fioravante (Turturro) are two New Yorkers who are underemployed and low on cash. A comment by Murray’s dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) about her desire to have a threesome with her best friend Selima (Sofia Vergara) gives Murray an idea — the rugged Fioravante could make a perfect gigolo. While Fioravante is at first hesitant to the idea, he soon jumps in with both feet as Murray scours New York City for lonely middle-aged women who could use the companionship of Fioravante — or, as he calls himself on the job, Virgil. One of these women is Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a widow from the insular Orthodox Jewish community of Williamsburg who suffers from deep loneliness. As the audience finds out, Fioravante is also lonely and the two connect in a way that makes the Orthodox community uncomfortable — particularly Dovi (Liev Schreiber), a member of the local Shomrim safety patrol who has an unrequited crush on Avigal. His concerns led to the unraveling of Murray and Fioravante’s business.
First things first: Fading Gigolo contains the biggest gap in logic that I have ever seen in a movie. I can accept every ridiculous sequence in superhero movies. I can even accept the most ludicrous premises in romantic comedies. But I cannot buy the idea that Sofia Vergara, who spends all of her scenes nearly falling out of her top, has to pay someone to have sex with her, and even if I could buy it that man would certainly not look like John Turturro. I can suspend disbelief, but it’s impossible to suspend logic to that degree.
But beneath that Fading Gigolo has two things going for it — first, a remarkably funny appearance by Woody Allen. This is the first time in over a decade that Allen has appeared as a character in a film that was not written by him, but its some of his funniest “Woody Allen character” dialogue in years. His character is in a relationship with an African American woman (Tonya Pinkins) who has a gaggle of kids. Allen’s interaction with the entire brood are hysterical. His character has a number of lines that sound straight out of Allen’s classic standup routines. When at one point Fioravante points out that he would be a terrible gigolo because he is not a good looking man, Murray responds, “Is Mick Jagger a beautiful man? When he opens his mouth it’s a horror.”
The second — and frankly more surprising — aspect of Fading Gigolo that it brings to the table is its insight into the Orthodox Jewish community and its treatment of women, which is wildly outdated in the eyes of modern society. The fact that a grown woman like Avigail has no idea who Robin Hood is shows how disconnected the community is from general culture. For most viewers it is probably hard to conceive that a subculture exists in the heart of New York City that allows women few freedoms outside of their own homes.
Paradis’ performance as Avigail is absolutely heartbreaking at points, particularly when “Virgil” gives her a brief massage on her naked back and she cries. As she later remarks, she is not crying out of shame. She is crying because this moment represents a type of affectionate touch that is denied to women of her religion, even from her former husband. If this were a higher-profile movie, Paradis’ performance would have garnered awards talk. Nonetheless, this is a comedy and Turturro doesn’t exactly “take down” the Orthodox community. It would not be the proper place for that sort of commentary, yet I was disappointed with the final outcome of Avigail’s relationship with the overbearing Dovi and I feel Turturro could have not backed down so easily. If he was worried about offending a community (one that will probably never even see this film), he could have still made a statement on the subjugation of women in insular religious communities without doing so.
Yet my biggest issue with the film is the title character. While Allen’s Murray and Paradis’ Avigail are wonderful (and Schreiber’s character is menacing), Turturro’s character is too much of a blank slate. He is obviously deeply lonely, but it’s not really established why women would find him irresistible or why he should be the central character of this movie when there are so many more interesting characters. I mean, this is Barton Fink, Emilio Lopez, and Jesus Quintana we are talking about. I would have loved to have seen a drama about Avigail’s character or a comedy about Allen’s character. I wasn’t quite as taken by a movie combining the two with Turturro’s character as the bridge, especially since every other main character — including ones that make small appearances, like Bob Balaban‘s Sol — are far more intriguing.
RATING: The concept is funnier than the execution because the least interesting character is the focus (5/10).