Fading Gigolo: A 'Not Exactly Woody Allen' Movie
FADING GIGOLO, John Turturro's (very Woody Allen) seamy rom-com, seems like an emerging misstep. It manages to miss the recent TV sensation, Hung, about a regular guy (a HS sports coach) who happens to be hunky and quite fit, being rented out as a “ho” by his “pimp” friend, with both relieving financial pressures in their successful efforts at hunky guy’s satisfying horny, monied females.
Here, Woody Allen, playing a stereotypical Jewish schmendrik, Murray Schwartz (could they really not think of a less obnoxiously obvious moniker for him than Mel Brooks’s favorite nerd-name in the hilarious record The 2000 Year Old Man?) convinces florist Turturro to service his dermatologist (Sharon Stone, still ravishing, with the best legs in the business) and her gal-pal, fantabulous Sofia Vergara, as Selima (starring also in CHEF). Murray’s bookstore is closing, and he needs a cash infusion.
But are we being epidemicized by gorgeous women who somehow, some way, cannot find a boyfriend and have to shell out thousands for a not young, not particularly handsome stud? A European or South American film would have had a quite different cast, making the story a slice more believable.
“Virgil/Fioravante” accepts, after a puckish resistance that yields to the lure of…what? Money? The chance to show off his abilities with women? Turturro cleverly underplays, becoming a palimpsest of what these women seem to want – undefined, stoic male who laconically gets the job done.
But complicating this unpleasant and not fresh little plot, the storyline goes into Williamsburg and Brooklyn for untrodden plot merat. It strikes me as false and nearly false throughout, even though the credits note two (count ‘em: two) Judaica consultants. Under all the sidelocks and translated yiddishisms is the peek-a-boo signature Woody Allen irritation with Orthodoxy. He manages to just control his disgust. But the mockery is there, for the millions of potential viewers who know from nothing Jewish.
While Turturro has directed five films in the past, the script seems like vintage smart-alecky Allen. The streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn are as dewy as Santo Loquasto’s work on Allen’s luminous recent decade films. The music is eclectic – French chansons, Portuguese love songs, jazz numbers (also vintage Woodsman). It seems easy to credit that Turturro and Allen made some sort of arrangement for some reason to assign credit to the former.
And we are back to the unrealistic cognitive dissonance of flamingly stunning ladies matched up with not impressive men. You can’t fault casting directors for placing the radiance of Stone or Vergara or long-time Johnny Depp live-in and French songbird Vanessa Paradis (as a Chassidic mother of six?!) in the celluloid. But sorry to say: just casting Woody Allen and his rheumy eyes and fleeting hair renders a film automatically less serious – if serious is what they were aiming for.
Working in the Chassidic idiom, too, seems another Major Mistake. Chassidism uses an entire worldview and idiosyncratic language – even when translated faithfully into (accented Polish) English. It is a minefield of elements that only the closest observation can sidestep. Turturro clearly does not know of calling a Beis din on religious infractions, nor know that kids called to play lot baseball would respond with what a “time-waste” such activities are (bitul z’man, in Hebrew). And if Paradis as the beautiful Chassidic widow, Avigal, rejects shaking hands, because such a touch is forbidden between women and unfamiliar men, why would she then disrobe and permit the "healing ministrations" of Turturro’s Fioravante to massage her naked back?
There is a tiny courtroom proceeding that mixes the all-important shtreimmels (fur-cuffed broad-brimmed hats worn by very conservative Satmar sect followers, as well as the less extreme headgear used by the Lubavitcher – more relaxed observers – sect followers. These may seem trivial, but they set the knowledgeable of the three-man panel in the Beth din (religious court) on edge. The details are not well-matched for those who are insiders, and thus the sleazy nature of the plot, already a travesty for supposedly decent men, comes off even worse. Hypocrisies abound. Tortured rationales crop up, not noticed by the unknowing, but slippery slopes to those familiar.
Clear to the audience, this was not a laugh-filled rom-com. We laughed perhaps once in the whole enterprise. But the romance blooming between the religious widow and the ho-for hire Fioravante made me, for one, restless and embarrassed. Turturro saves the day by being solid and carefully sentient in micro-expressions of responsiveness. But the smarm in hiring a decent working man to service fantastic women who would never need servicing by this earnest-looking mensch, and reveling in the Ulysses Grants rolling in? Uncomfortable at best. Off-putting at worst.
Liev Shreiber as a member of the Shomrim (cop-like community guards), who has a longtime crush on Avigal, wears his yiddishisms and accent with panache and believability. He seems to make himself smaller than he normally stands. His jealousy and yearning are palpable. And veteran irked actor Bob Balaban plays the sharp-tongued, quick-witted Jewish attorney Sol (hmm), defending Turturro at the Beth din proceedings.
This also seems to be the rare Allen/Turturro film with black characters: Woody/Murray lives with a large, pleasant, though undefined woman who seems to be the mother of a passel of children. We are not told the nature of the arrangement, though Murray is seen coaching the notably amusing yet inept kids of both his home brood and Paradis/Avigal’s half-dozen side-curled crew how to hit a baseball somewhere in Central Park.
The upshot of FADING GIGOLO is a dim wonder at why it was made, since it adds little new material to what we have seen so much of. Even the title is a bad choice: it jumps the lede by giving us too much before we begin, and too definitive a finale, when the end of the movie does not in fact comport with that adjective “fading.”
Turturro’s fifth film (MAC, ILLUMINATA, ROMANCE & CIGARETTES, PASSIONE), this is presumably about people’s relentless and seldom satisfied quest to find fulfillment via shortcuts of easy sex and harder to find love. Some adults might find it acceptable, one supposes: randy males and aesthetes hungry to sop up the Woodsman efforts when he is not directing.
Much discussion was generated after the credits. The easy reviewers seemed to accept it with a smile and wave of the hand. But the many deficits and lacunae evident to the knowing made it less than satisfactory entertainment.