‘Fading Gigolo:’ Woody Be A Pimp? Yes. He woody.

John Turturro wrote, directed, and starred in this Woody Allen-ish, lyrical, New York film, and Woody Allen acts, for the first time in a long time, in a movie that’s not his, presumably because it does so closely resemble his own. Turturro is, and always has been, perfect, from O, Brother Where Art Thou? to Secret Window to Mr. Deeds. In Fading Gigolo, he plays Fioravante, a sensually named hell-of-a-guy, a florist and friend to Woody Allen’s Murray Schwartz (coincidentally, the name of my favorite literature professor in college), an old, charming little man with all the neuroses you’d expect from a Woody Allen character.

Murray had to close down his bookstore but finds a spring in his step with a new plan to earn some cash. Murray’s a sweet talker and Fioravante is a sweet lover, and so he convinces the florist to become an escort, while Murray, his pimp, collects his ten…or fifteen…or forty percent. Fioravante’s first customer is Murray’s dermatologist (Sharon Stone), who is terminally bored and oozing with money and desire. She expresses to Murray that she and her friend (Sofia Vergara, who shows herself to be much more than a loud, cartoonish sitcom character) both reveal their interest in a ménage à trois, and Murray, of course, thinks immediately of his friend.

With some convincing, Fioravante meets first with the dermatologist alone, where it is clear that he is the most sympathetic prostitute there ever was. He’s a careful man, precise and empathetic. The way he handles flowers translates to the respect and soft touch he has for women. When the doctor is visibly nervous, Fioravante exudes soft-spoken confidence. He is slow, in the way that means he takes his time to speak, and when he does, it means he has thought of only the words necessary to convey his point. Often they are clever or poetic or both. Always the effect is that he cares for the conversation and for you more than you probably thought the conversation or you warranted, and that makes you feel really good. This is Fioravante’s gift, in addition to, you know…

The crux of the film is when Murray suggests Fioravante meet with Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), widow of a Hasidic rabbi and mother of six in an Orthodox community in Brooklyn. From here, the film splits into two strands, that weave together tremulously, like a beginner on a bicycle. There is the subtle and increasingly tender, almost puppy love that Avigal and Fioravante develop for each other, and conversely, the slapstick-y and slightly stalker-y investigation of Dovi (Liev Schreiber), the neighborhood watchman who has loved Avigal since they were schoolchildren. It involves quite a silly chase scene in which Murray loses a baguette and slips out of a black SUV, as well as a trial by jury of older than old Hasidic men.

Fading Gigolo takes place in that New York of movies, a city whose soul can be encompassed and expressed by a saxophone solo, a romantic vision of a vintage existence, where days are spent in old bookstores, your laundry gets packaged in brown paper and tied with string, and you wake up in the morning to sip egg creams through straws in corner diners with old men. It’s indicative of the overall tone of the film, at once over-the-top and understated, totally romanticized yet aspirationally human. Perhaps Fading Gigolo is a bit inconsistent this way, but the film is an overtly experimental passion project, and that passion is what drives all the success it garners.

Grade: B+

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7 years ago

Woody be a pedophile.

Mark Dreher
7 years ago

He is very versatile.
You know.
Does not consume 24 hours a day.
You gotta branch out.

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