Labor of love
John Turturro’s ‘Fading Gigolo’ offers a deep and witty look at middle-aged romantic angst
By Carl Kozlowski 05/22/2014
There are some character actors who blend into the woodwork of the movies and TV shows they are in, playing the archetypal cop or banker. But no one could ever accuse , whose quirky looks and oddball demeanor have propelled him through 98 roles, of fading into the background of anything he’s in.
But it has been in the six films that Turtturro has made as a writer and director, as well as star, that he has let his artistic spirit shine, ranging from the musical “Romance and Cigarettes” to the dance documentary “Passione.” Those films were more artistic statements than they were entertaining, so it’s a delight to report that his latest film, “Fading Gigolo,” is a richly funny and warm escapade. And in a sign of just how good this is, Woody Allen co-stars — something the legendary auteur has almost never done.
The film opens with Murray (Allen), a rare-books store owner with a younger African-American wife and kids who must close his business. Murray tells his longtime younger friend Fioravante (Turturro) that he should consider being a gigolo, providing “sexual healing” to rich women found by Murray, who takes a pimp fee. Fioravante at first scoffs at the idea, but then succumbs to curiosity when he experiences a money crunch.
Soon Fioravante (who assumes other aliases while on the job) is having sex with women all over Manhattan, especially with Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), who is frustrated with her husband and wants to not only commit adultery but also have a threesome with a man and another woman. Fioravante proves to be the right man for the jobs, and he is soon making a ton of money keeping Dr. Parker and other women she recommends to him satisfied.
But when Murray tries to get Fioravante to have sex with a grieving Orthodox Jewish widow (Vanessa Paradis), he finds that it will take a lot just to convince her to be touched. They form a deeper emotional bond while they are followed around town by a Jewish policeman (Liev Schreiber) who is suspicious of Foravante’s actions but is also developing a crush on the widow.
As she fights to defend her life and right to privacy, Fioravante rethinks his profession. The result is a film that explores the consequences of its characters’ actions, making both the comedy and the drama deeper than that found in most films.
While the idea of a man making the rounds of New York to sexually satisfy women may sound tasteless, rest assured Turturro has handled the subject with the utmost class. He realizes that he’s the most unlikely of sex symbols, and has plenty of laughs with the idea that a guy like him could be a ladies’ man, and this renders most of the sex scenes (which are clothed, except for a topless woman lying smiling and exhausted in her bed after a tryst) either subtle or funny rather than sweaty and graphic.
“Gigolo” is an obvious labor of love, with Turturro drawing all of his characters with affection, even when they are at odds with each other. The film’s score, containing a number of classic yet not overused tunes, is aptly whimsical and romantic while the cinematography by Marco Pontecorvo brings the lush tree-lined streets of New York neighborhoods to vibrant life.
Add it all up and this “Gigolo” will likely leave both men and women with smiles on their faces.