To truly understand a person’s motivations and emotions, the most encouraging factor to truly explore and consider is their relationship with their closest friend and colleague. This is certainly the case with not only the two main characters in the new comedy, ‘Fading Gigolo,’ which opens on Friday in select New York theaters, but also the movie’s collaborators. The film’s writer, director and lead actor, John Turturro, was not only influenced by the storytelling of his co-star, Woody Allen, but his character was also easily swayed by his friend’s career and relationship advice.
‘Fading Gigolo’ follows best friends Fioravante (Turturro) and Murray (Allen) as they set out to find a quick way to earn money when their vintage book store is forced into closure. The two scheme to get out of debt by embarking on the world’s oldest profession, prostitution, but neither is fully prepared for the challenges that await them. Murray convinces Fioravante to allow him to act as his pimp, after his dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), and her friend, Selima (Sofia Vergara), confess they’d like to experience a ménage à trois.
Fioravante is hired by the doctor after a few try out meetings, in which she offers him a hefty monetary reward. Before long, Murray is successfully arranging several more clients for Fioravante, who has gained notoriety across Manhattan. But when Murray introduces him to Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), the widow of a revered Brooklyn Chasidic Rabbi, complications arise for both parties.
Avigal finally gathers the strength to move on with her life after her husband’s death, as she leaves her sheltered world for chaste visits with Fioravante. Their affectionate, secretive meetings stir up romantic feelings both has never felt before. However, they eventually draw suspicion and jealousy from one of her neighbors, Dovi (Liev Schreiber), a Chasidic man who has pined for Avigal for years. Soon, Murray takes it upon himself to resolve the love triangle, and realizes that while he can quickly gain large sums of money through his arrangement with his friend, their business plan isn’t as easy as it appears.
As ‘Fading Gigolo’s scribe and helmer, Turturro was intriguingly influenced by Allen’s continuous jabs at his Jewish and personal neurosis in his own writing and directorial efforts, as he was crafting the story and characters for the interestingly intrepid comedy. The filmmaker held no qualms while exploring the expectations people are ever increasingly forced to live up to in their religious, professional and love lives in the new comedy.
Even after Murray convinces a reluctant Fioravante to accept money from Dr. Parker, Selima and their other clients in a last-ditch effort to make money after the store closes, the title character doesn’t truly begin to appreciate the honest and honorable life he has built for himself until he develops a bond with Avigal. With Murray nonchalantly choosing to disregard his Jewish heritage and not appreciating the religion’s heritage as strongly as his friend’s new love interest, the film comically chronicles the distinctive quirks the two friends are forced to face and overcome as they struggle to retake control over their lives.
‘Fading Gigolo’ does take a strong influence from many of Allen’s previous writing and directorial efforts, particularly in the sense that the main characters undergo whimsical transformations after being thrust into outrageously unpredictable situations outside their comfort zones. Unfortunately, the comedy fails to offer a meaning explanation of why the characters are being tested. Fioravante appears to be a caring, traditional man who cares about the wellbeing of those he cares about, but the lack of clarification of why he’s hesitant to accept Murray’s proposal makes his character arc at times unsatisfying and unfulfilling. The story would have fared better if Turturro more thoroughly chronicled his character’s relationship with his old friend, as well as his history with romantic relationships, to offer a more satisfying explanation of his willingness to help Murray, and his sophisticated nature among the women he encounters.
‘Fading Gigolo’ is a captivating comedic effort from Turturro as a writer, director and actor, as he brazenly took cues from Allen’s own filmmaking style to tell a story about two distinctly different friends who are striving to find the meaning in their lives. While Fioravante truly values the culture and principles of the people around him, Murray shamelessly disregards typical moral and religious standards, in an effort to truly help him achieve what he wants. Though the comedy does blatantly feature character traits, plot points and humor that deeply mirror Allen’s own writing and directing, it unfortunately fails to offer a meaning explanation of the characters’ past and motivations. As a result, their transformations are left feeling unfulfilling and unrewarding, and the overall story is unfortunately left bleak and unimaginative.