best friends, cinema, dramadies, Fading Gigolo, Film, film reviews, gigolos, indie dramas, John Turturro, Liev Schrieber, low-key, male friendships, Movies, New York City, Orthodox Jews, pimps, rabbis, romances, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vargera, Vanessa Paradis, Woody Allen, writer-director-actor
If you were asked to come up with a list of actors who would seem like natural fits to play a pimp, I’m willing to wager that actor-director Woody Allen is probably the very last person you would think of: hell, there are probably dead people that would seem more appropriate for that kind of role. Allen, the patron saint of nebbishy, fidgety, neurotic indie-film characters since the mid-’60s, may be many things but a pimp? C’mon, already. For better or worse, however, that’s exactly the roll that Allen’s Murray fulfills in writer-director-actor John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo (2013), a modest little film that often feels like “Woody Allen-lite,” even as it approaches the material from a decidedly more earthy direction than Allen’s own films.
Murray (Woody Allen) and Fioravante (John Turturro) are best friends who also seem to be the two most low-key, laid-back guys in New York: Murray runs the dusty old bookstore that he inherited from his father (who inherited it from his father, before him), while Fioravante works a few hours a week in a little flower shop. After Murray has to close his shop, however, they take a look at their respective bank accounts and realize that they’re each uncomfortably close to the poor house, a prospect that causes the aging friends no end of worry.
After being approached by a doctor friend (Sharon Stone), however, Murray comes up with a new business strategy: he’s going to set his buddy Fioravante up with local women in need of some “adult” companionship. That’s right: Woody wants to pimp out his buddy to New York’s cougar population. Although initially hesitant, Fioravante quickly agrees, even adopting the nom de plume “Virgil Howard” as a way to keep both halves of his life separate. In short order, Fioravante is a very, very busy man and Murray is becoming a very wealthy one, as we find out in one of those montages that’s pretty de rigueur for this type of thing. Complications arise, however, when Murray sets Fioravante up with Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a local Orthodox Jewish widow. This ends up raising the ire of Dovi (Liev Schreiber), one of the Orthodox neighborhood’s resident “patrolmen” and the poor schmuck who’s been admiring Avigal from afar for years. As Fioravante and Avigal appear to be falling for each other, Dovi conspires to uncover the truth about Murray’s activities, with the goal of hauling him before the neighborhood’s Orthodox rabbinate. And let’s not forget Dr. Parker and her friend, Selima (Sofia Vargera), whose only goal in life appears to be roping Fioravante into a threesome. What’s a nice, Italian boy to do when everybody, including his best friend, wants a piece of him? Why, keep smiling, that’s what!
For the most past, Fading Gigolo is the kind of modest, low-key film that doesn’t make much of an impact, even if there’s nothing especially wrong with it. The acting is solid, with Allen and Turturro reasonably convincing as friends and Stone and Vargera quite fun as the hot-to-trot cougars. The film is reasonably well made, with a great score, although the overly muddy color contrast is a bit of a bummer. The whole thing moves fairly quickly, although some of the machinations involving Schreiber’s character tend to make the film unnecessarily confusing and cluttered in the final third. For the most part, Fading Gigolo hits all of the required beats, even of most of them come and go without much fanfare.
This, then, is kind of the rub: while pleasant enough, little of Turturro’s film makes much of an impact…the whole thing is so breezy and lightweight as to be almost completely inconsequential. The subplot with Avigal and Fioravante never quite pans out as promised, making the whole thing feel a little extraneous, and there’s something a little too convenient about the way that Stone and Vargera’s ravenous characters are completely tamed in the presence of Turturro’s kind-hearted lover-man: this is a film where true love beats all because…well, just because.
While I’ve always been a huge fan of Turturro’s acting (I think he’s easily one of the most criminally under-rated actors around), this was actually my first experience with him as a writer-director and I must admit to being slightly underwhelmed: again, there’s nothing critically wrong with Fading Gigolo (aside from the inherently silly storyline, that is) but there’s also not a whole lot that sticks to the ribs, either. For the most part, Fading Gigolo comes and goes without making too much of a ripple, which might be some sort of parallelism regarding the two main characters but is, more than likely, just the mark of a film that’s decent enough but hardly relevatory.