The dual-review film criticism site: first a spoiler-free review, then an in-depth Alternate Take.
Fading Gigolo

Reviewed by Tom Steward.

Director John Turturro
Length 90
Certificate 15
Rating ***-------
Filmmaking: 1  Personal enjoyment: 2

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If I had dreamt about the actors from Fading Gigolo, I doubt my subconscious could have come up with anything as strange as John Turturro’s latest movie. The storyline makes no literal sense, at least not in the way it is presented to the audience, and develops in a wholly unexpected way. The actors seem to have been cast deliberately in roles for which they are unsuited and cannot be conceived as their characters without some struggle or unease on the audience’s part. There is no sense that actor-writer-director Turturro has any control over the material or flow of the movie, resulting in an unsatisfying looseness that runs counter to audience engagement. With such a strong cast (Turturro included), there are undoubtedly pleasurable moments of performance, but the movie offers nothing in the way of coherence and little resembling direction, both in the storytelling and authorship senses of the word.

As his antiquarian bookstore closes, Murray (Woody Allen) finds himself acting as a pimp for long-time friend Fiorovante (John Turturro), a plumber, florist, cordon bleu cook and self-taught linguist, whom Murray suspects could be gainfully employed as a gigolo. Following a successful ‘try-out’ with Murray’s dermatologist Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), Murray soon starts a business selling Fiorovante’s body to various women acquaintances, leading towards a ménage a trois with Parker and friend Selima (Sophia Vergara). Murray then hits upon the idea of setting up Fiorovante with Avrigal (Vanessa Paradis), a repressed Jewish Orthodox widow from the Hassidic section of Williamsburg whom Murray takes his adopted African-American children to for lice removal. This alerts Hasid policeman and Avrigal’s jealous admirer Dovi (Liev Schreiber) to Murray’s prostitution racket and as Fiorovante and Avrigal grow closer, the gigolo’s prowess with women and the widow’s standing in her religious community are both severely threatened.

The synopsis seems more the work of a virus-infected online movie plot generator than a screenwriter and there’s nothing in the script that contextualizes this bizarre sequence of events. Turturro would have had more success getting the audience to suspend disbelief if he had given the movie a distinct focus. Is Fading Gigolo about Fiorovante, or Murray, or Avrigal, or Dr. Parker? Is it about male prostitution or frustrated society women or life in a Hassidic community? The audience is never sure and can’t shake the feeling they’re watching a loose collection of movie ideas that have yet to be narrowed down to one. The cast gamely battles constrictions that these characterisations put on their acting. Allen does his fiercest Phil Silvers impression to make the conceptual leap from print to pimp while Stone tries her best to reconcile Parker’s neuroses with her newfound sense of ease as an actress.

There is something profoundly unsettling about this movie. Though motivated more by masculine self-pity than morality, movies about male prostitution (Midnight Cowboy, American Gigolo) revealed the dangerous underside of the lives of sex workers where movies about female prostitution have glossed and celebrated them. Fading Gigolo seems to want to present prostitution in as attractive a way as possible, surrounded by comfort, physical beauty and sensuality and ameliorated by deft comedy. Lacking authorial control over his image, Allen’s onscreen persona becomes a product of off-screen allegations against the actor-writer-director. We see this in Murray’s adopted inter-racial children and criminal sexual activities. Disturbingly, Allen plays Murray as lightly as any of his slapstick roles, de-villainizing the role until it is uncomfortable to watch, impossible to enjoy. Nonetheless, Allen’s natural comic talent is undeniable, as is the effectiveness of all the actors on their own terms, if not those of the movie.

Alternate Take to follow soon...

This review was published on May 22, 2014.