Clinging to the hope that ‘Fading Gigolo’ is something spectacular may unfortunately be in vein. The charm that the film’s writer, director, and star John Turturro has shown in his career fails to translate in his latest project, namely his enthusiasm. A story about a newfound pimp/gigolo partnership between ex-bookshop keeper Murray (Woody Allen) and part-time florist Fioravante (John Turturro) holds strange storyline branches around Fioravante’s new ladyloves and the loosely explained actual love that buds between Fioravante and the Hasidic widow, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis). And while the meat has potential, the details are forgettable.
The identity of ‘Fading Gigolo’ is left hanging in the air. With an Allen-esque quality where his dialogue has its typical overflow and Turturro’s is more of a dry well, the romantic hopes and failings of gigolo life alongside the uninteresting exchanges make Allen’s influence feel too heavy. Fioravante as the central figure is missing some serious energy. As soon as Murray suggests, and too soon in the film, the idea of gigolo wealth purely because his dermatologist Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) brought it up to him in conversation about ménage à trois, the ball is suddenly rolling. With only a scene’s worth of resistance, Fioravante says yes to Dr. Parker, through Murray of course so he may get his cut, and he is suddenly at home in her luxury apartment and things start too easy and successfully to be convincing.
There are a number of things that we’re simply left to wonder throughout the film. For instance, what is Murray’s relationship with the African American family he seems to live with? Adopted daughter with now four kids? Single-mom takes in friendly neighbor? And who does Murray take to clean little Dante’s head of lice but Avigal. The connection to both this family and the Hasidic community are left without a solid basis. Other than the fact that the two parties are Brooklynites and we know that Murray has known Fioravante since he was a kid, that’s the only main background we come to understand.
When Murray brings up to Avigal that a widow needs to find something of a ‘passion’ in her situation, Fioravante is led to pretend he is both a Jew and a masseuse for money now of a different kind, which then grows into true affection. When she cries at his bare touch to her back, never touched before, it is moving on some level, but still feels unrealistic. The premise of the story is an intriguing thought, but Fioravante’s generic and flat dialogue companied with some corny moments of poetic Italian or Spanish that he translates for Avigal, it feels too staged for the screen. What is interesting is that it feels more like a play, a piece that can be worked with or exaggerated even more because it has these theatrical qualities.
‘Fading Gigolo’ also stars Sophia Vergara as Selima, friend of Dr. Parker and ménage à trios prospect, and Liev Schreiber as Dovi, the Williamsburg ‘Neighborhood Watch’ who’s had a keen eye on Avigal for years and follows his suspicion in seeing Murray and her together. Schreiber gives the best performance for being most out of the box. As the Hasidic enforcer, he’s the most unique character and does well in both accent and character development. He becomes more open and honest as he follows Avigal, concerned and jealous before opening up to her, more progress than the other characters. The final scene is an awkwardly long staring contest of sorts between Murray and Fioravante in a diner after Murray tries to pimp out Fioravante to a French woman. Just when you’re sure he’s done, and Fioravante says it, it suddenly feels they are back where they started. They stare, they smile, the end. This is not a ‘full circle’ kind of film. It feels misplaced, as Turturro is not exactly convincing as a gigolo and ménage à trois doesn’t seem to do the trick. It’s more an awkward and forbidden romance that otherwise is slow moving with a few interesting cultural references (a Hasidic woman cannot shake hands or show her hair outside of the home, and Kosher cooking is completely foreign until you need to use it for someone else, as Fioravante does).
The contrast between gigolo life and Jewish culture is risky and stays relatively separate in ‘Fading Gigolo,’ aiding in the identity crisis as if two films are happening at once. Turturro needs a breath of life in this movie, or to purely stay in front of the camera so his focus is in one place. He has it in him, whether he’s an ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ runaway or the eccentric agent type in ‘Transformers,’ or acting alongside the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman in the new ‘God’s Pocket.’ He may be lovable, but Turturro’s ‘Fading Gigolo’ isn’t quite worth a big applause.