At first glance, one might mistake John Turturro’s “Fading Gigolo” for a Woody Allen movie. But once you settle in and watch, you realize that Turturro has his own voice…a kinder, gentler voice that serves him and the movie well. Written and directed by Turturro, “Fading Gigolo” is the story of two NYC friends— Fioravante (Turturro), a florist, and former bookstore owner, Murray (Woody Allen). An off the cuff question by Allen’s dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), wondering if he knows anyone who would be interested in a ménage à trois…and she’s will to pay…with her and a friend, sets the wheels in motion for the rest of the film.
Murray runs the question by Fioravante to see if he might be interested and offers his encouragement for his participation. Murray would take a cut of the fee and both men can use the money, especially Fioravante. He initially has some doubts about pursuing this, most especially when it comes to his looks, telling Murray, “I’m not a beautiful man.” Murray reassures him with the hysterical comeback, “Some guys look better when they’re naked. I figured you’re one.” Deciding to use the name Virgil Howard on this new career path, Fioravante finally agrees. But before the threesome can happen, Dr. Parker decides on a trial run first. Turns out that Fioravante is more than good at his new “job.” The other member of the future ménage, the hilarious sex-bomb, Selima (Sofía Vergara), also requests a sneak preview and she is more than happy with this non-beautiful man.
New career aside, Fioravante’s life is fairly solitary while Murray lives in a boisterous home with Othella (Tonya Pinkins), helping to raise her young sons. When one of them gets lice, Murray takes the children to a woman he knows who handles this kind of problem—a young Jewish widow, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), whose husband was a rabbi in the Hasidic community in which she lives. She’s been a widow for two years and has been guarded from afar by the love-struck neighborhood watchman, Dovi (Liev Schreiber). Murray turns out to be pretty good at his new job, too. He quickly sizes up Avigal’s loneliness as well as her tenseness and mentions that he knows someone who can be of help. Watching Avigal leave the confines of her constrictive neighborhood and Dovi’s reaction to it is one of the film’s small pleasures. When Avigal meets Fioravante, he immediately puts her at ease and you can sense a change taking place within her.
Turturro beautifully captures the NYC ambiance…not the big city with its skyscrapers…but the NYC of its small, bustling communities that exist within it…the vitality which makes the city such an inviting place to live. We are introduced to folk who come it its delis, bookstores and coffee shops. And to say he gets the most from his actors is putting it mildly. Woody Allen rarely acts in anyone elses movies but his own, and truth be told, as an actor, he hasn’t been this likeable in years. He is absolutely terrific as the “helpful” friend. Vanessa Paradis simply glows as Avigal. She’s unconventionally beautiful and the way in which she blossoms from the dowdy, shy woman to someone with a voice is amazing. Sharon Stone is also very good and sympathetic as a woman trying to put some spice in her life. Vergara and Schreiber add zest, fun and depth to the film. Finally there is Turturro himself. He is utterly fabulous. He might not be a “beautiful man,” but over the course of the movie he becomes one.
“Fading Gigolo” is a small movie with a large heart and awesome performances. It’s NYC and entertainment at its best.