By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Fading Gigolo is an oddball absurdist comedy, a farcical cinematic doodle that takes a bite out of the Big Apple and finds it strangely tasty.
Woody Allen, this time working in someone else’s movie, plays Murray, a bookstore owner in New York City whose failing store closes.
So, to create a desperately needed stream of income, the opportunistic Murray suggests to his mild-mannered florist friend, Fioravante, the title character played by John Turturro (who also directed from his own script) that he negotiate sexual encounters for him, joining the world’s oldest profession and selling his sexual services to interested, well-to-do women.
Fioravante sidesteps the compliment and dismisses the notion –- until he hears how much money is involved.
And before you can say “pimp his ride,” clients (played by actresses such as Sharon Stone and Sofía Vergara) are signing up with the newly minted, middle-aged male prostitute.
Fioravante is also engaged as a platonic masseuse for Avigal, a Hasidic widow and mother of six from Brooklyn played by French actress Vanessa Paradis, who visits Fioravante and sits down to a meal of kosher fish, much to the chagrin of the smitten Dovi, a local law enforcer played by Lev Schreiber, who follows her around and yearns for her company.
And if Dovi squeals, what might wait for Murray and Avigal is a stern tribunal of rabbinical elders.
Meanwhile, the more time Fioravante spends with Avigal, the more he comes to care for her. And while some viewers might feel that, given the setup, this is an icky vanity project for Turturro, you do get the feeling that the high-concept sexual-stud premise is just the comical wrapping paper that Turturro has chosen for the gift he cares about delivering, which is the romantic relationship at the film’s center as a chaste exploration of loneliness and desire.
Turturro, always a welcome character-actor addition to any cast, has also distinguished himself over the years as a quirky, talented director (Mac, Illuminata, Romance & Cigarettes, Passione). Here, in his fifth directorial outing, he gets credit for getting an impressively restrained and effective performance out of Allen, the brilliant writer and director never known for his acting prowess.
Turturro wrote the Murray role for Allen and it shows: this is the best role Allen has had, and the most he’s done with one in a long time. His comic timing is sharp, and his acting is more restrained and persuasive than it’s been in years.
And Paradis, making her English-language debut, gives a fascinating reading to her frustratingly cloistered Orthodox character.
On the debit side, we wouldn’t mind a bit more in the way of character delineation. That is, as entertaining as the relationship and repartee between Allen and Turturro is, not all the dots are connected in the dual portrait, so we’re left wishing we could get to know and understand the two main characters better.
As for those viewers who decide that what they’re watching is an attempt by John Turturro to make a Woody Allen flick, well, they wouldn’t be far off.
And yet, there’s something diverting and compelling about this offbeat piece, this inventively goofy construct with its good-natured embrace of ludicrousness. It’s so out there that it puts a smile on your face and you’re not exactly sure why.
So we’ll smile and service 2½ stars out of 4. Fading Gigolo is an eccentric flight of fancy that neither soars nor collapses. Instead, appropriately enough, it fades — but pleasantly so.