Although sweet and sensitive, John Turturro’s film is perhaps a little too muted and slight for its own good.
I know I’m supposed to be a professional when it comes to reviewing movies, taking an objective stance on each film as I enter, allowing the movie to tell the story it has to tell without the fetters of my prejudice, but it was really, really hard to look past the fact that writer/director/star John Turturro cast himself as an ineffably handsome sexual dynamo that gets to have a threesome with Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara. I suppose if given our druthers, most people would do the same (Stone and Vergara are perhaps two of the most beautiful actresses currently working), but there is definitely a small streak of indulgence in this act.
In Fading Gigolo, Turturro plays a tough-yet-alluring florist named Fioravante, a strong and silent New Yorker who becomes a gigolo because, hey, why not? His friend Murray (Woody Allen, yes, Woody Allen) hits upon the idea that Fioravante, as a sexually experienced man, would be the ideal candidate for his bisexual doctor’s (Stone) sexual outlets. Fioravante seems to take to hooking with a deal of ease, often far more relaxed than the flustered older women on his client list. Turturro is an enormously talented actor (his hammy work in the Transformers films notwithstanding), and he manages to come across as alluring, confident, and willing to explore, all without saying anything.
Eventually, Fioravante is connected with a widowed Hasidic Jew named Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), who has long since given up on any sort of sensual pleasure in favor of a life of motherly duties and strict ascetic mourning. Fioravante and Avigal’s trysts are not sexual, but do involve intimacy. It won’t be long before the two of them start falling in love. This angers Avigal’s policeman suitor Dovi (Liev Schreiber), the handsomest, manliest Hasid you will ever see. It also upsets Stone and Vergara, who are looking for a long-term boytoy they can have threesomes with. Yes, Turturro does have a sex scene with the two women.
The film’s weakest scenes come from, oddly enough, Woody Allen himself. Allen plays his usual sputtering neurotic schtick (which he now wears as easily as his glasses), and I suppose the crux of the film’s humor is supposed to come from the thought that Allen would be playing a man’s pimp. Sadly, his sputtering awkwardness – this time – comes across as lame and desperate. Some may be charmed by Allen’s lazzi on every outing, but it doesn’t always work. Turturro allowed Allen to simply chatter at his own pace, making for comedic scenes that, at best, only ring as mildly amusing. I am not the type of person to be distracted by Allen’s recently-announced extracurricular activities, but some might be.
Which is odd, because, at its core, Fading Gigolo is a pretty genuinely felt romance. Turturro’s scenes are moody and warm, and the central relationship between Firoavante and Avigal actually has a little bit of heart.
But had Fading Gigolo been nothing but its romance scenes, it still would not be entirely successful, because it’s strangely muted. There is a quietude to the romance that subtlety plays up the emotional stakes, but keeps us from being fully invested. The final emotional crests are so slight that the entire movie soon begins to feel like a trifle. Sure, I would rather see a trifle from a talented actor and director like John Turturro than a fully-realized bland action epic from a dubiously talented hack, but a trifle is still a trifle.
Rating: 3 Burritos