A Jewish caper in New York, John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo finds its gentle comedy in a star-studded Manhattan romance.
Take The Money And Run by Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
The fifth film from actor-director John Turturro, Fading Gigolo leaves the musical world of Passione and Romance and Cigarettes behind in favour of a Woody Allen style New York comedy. Not only does it star the great New York comic, delivering his familiar Woody Allen shtick, Fading Gigolo is also anchored in the Jewish neighbourhood of Williamsburg, with its synagogues, rabbis and Hasidic policeman. But with a starring role penned by his own fair hand, Turturro stands apart from all this chutzpah and chachkies, an island of Italian-American sang-froid in this sea of handwringing, closeted pain and eccentric ritual, offering only an unusually high shoulder to cry on.
In New York, Murray (Woody Allen) is closing the book store he’s run for over 40 years. His hard-up friend and almost life-long employee Fioravante (John Turturro) is working a second job at a florist to make to make ends meet, so when Murray suggests a paid threesome with his dermatologist Dr Parker (Sharon Stone) and her beautiful friend Selima (Sofía Vergara), Fioravante’s interest is most definitely piqued. Murray and Fioravante explore their new roles as pimp Dan and ageing gigolo Virgil, but after meeting Dr Parker (and getting to know her, intimately) the deal is on. And it’s not long before Murray is procuring beautiful, wealthy and lonely women from all over Manhattan. Until one day Murray chances on the devout Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), grieving for her rabbi husband dead two years, and pined for by her local neighbourhood policeman Dovi (Liev Schreiber), bringing Fioravante into the realm of love and himself dangerously close to the Jewish religious court.
John Turturro isn’t perhaps the first choice for a Manhattan escort, but his salt and pepper locks and his inscrutable manly charm only seem to add to his appeal among New York’s sleek set. The fact that he can arrange flowers in the Japanese ikebana tradition, or speaks an irritatingly “urbane” mix of foreign languages, only seems to add to his “interesting” allure. But as the leading man to the Big Apple’s bold and beautiful, including Sharon Stone, Sofía Vergara and Vanessa Paradis, Turturro the director makes an oblique statement about Hollywood; a man for all reasons brought together with A-list women by his agent (and charging 10%) for a short performance – intimate and with no strings attached. Glamorous New York broads with barely an ugly woman looking for love in sight, Turturro’s fading gigolo becomes something of a misfit by comparison. But as a strong, silent (and very tall) type, Virgil is able to guide these women into their own private fantasy – a bit of a rogue, a real man or a strong pair of hands.
Beyond the comedy caper though of a reluctant gigolo, his septuagenarian pimp and their eager women, Fading Gigolo has a darker edge in the shape of Avigal – a lonely woman in her sheitel unable to escape her grief. She’s surrounded by a comic world of Jewish caper, silent and isolated in her Williamsburg brownstone. It’s only when she visits Virgil, now posing as a masseur, that she feels again the touch of life – passion forgotten through years of marriage and motherhood. But as she allows herself to live and love again, Fioravante is again relegated to an outsider, serving merely as the conduit to her happiness, an actor performing different roles with his women, helping them find their fulfilment, if not his own.
Perhaps the film’s greatest romance however is with New York City – a melting pot where blacks and Jews play baseball together in Central Park. Fading Gigolo gets its sense of humour from its Jewish mishegas, and its good looks are all Manhattan. But like John Turturro’s ageing escort at the centre of his story, Fading Gigolo lacks soul, relying too much on a blank cipher caught up in other people’s stories. Though with love just beyond his reach, and the roguish final-reel possibility of a beautiful girl in every New York diner, still there’s hope. That Turturro’s story might still be to come.
Fading Gigolo is released on 23rd May 2014 in the UK