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Fading Gigolo (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 23, 2023

Fading Gigolo


Starring John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber, Sharon Stone, Sofía Vergara, Bob Balaban, Jill Scott, Max Casella, Aida Turturro, Michael Badalucco, Eugenia Kuzmina, David Margulies, Katherine Borowitz and Loan Chabanol.

Screenplay by John Turturro.

Directed by John Turturro.

Distributed by Millennium Entertainment. 90 minutes. Rated R.

It’s not very often that you find a movie which explores both male prostitution and Hassidic Judaism.  It is even more rare when both of them come out looking kind of charming.  But that is where this wistful comedy finds itself.  And it is all the more amiable for it.

Written and directed by (and starring) actor John Turturro, Fading Gigolo is a sweet and subtle look at the vast tapestry that is New York City (and the five boros).

The film has a shocking strong cast for such a small labor of love – including Sharon Stone, Sophia Vergara, Liev Schreiber, French singer and actress Vanessa Paradis and a rare non-directing acting role by Woody Allen.  (Allen has done other people’s films periodically over the years, like The Front and Scenes From A Mall, but hasn’t in years, most recently providing the lead voice in the 1998 animated film Antz.)

Beyond acting in the film, Turturro told us in a recent press conference that Allen was also very involved in the rewriting process of the film.  Which makes sense, because even if it didn’t star the man, it would be tough not to notice that Fading Gigolo has the feel of one of Allen’s more whimsical culture clash films.  Like much of Allen’s best work, it is comic, but with a deep undercurrent of melancholia.

Turturro also has an adventurous spirit in casting, which works for him much better than may be expected.  Who in the world came up with the idea of French chanteuse Paradis as a Hassidic Jewish widow?  Or professional tough guy Liev Schreiber as a shy orthodox Jewish policeman?  Or Woody as a feckless pimp?  Or even the writer/director himself as a male sex worker?  It all seems to be such odd choices and had so much chance of failure that when the castings actually click pretty well you can’t help but smile.  (Schreiber, in particular, seems to be relishing his far-against-type part.)

The storyline is simple enough.  Murray (Allen) is a nebbishy aging man who has to close down the used book store he has run in Manhattan for decades.  His only other employee was Fioravante (Turturro) a forty-something clerk who Murray has employed since he caught him shoplifting as a kid years before.

The two men suddenly have lots of time on their hands and no real stream of income.  Through a random fluke, Murray decides to set Fioravante up with his dermatologist (Sharon Stone), a bored married woman looking for a no-strings affair.  Quickly Fioravante becomes an in-demand gigolo and Murray is a completely out-of-his-element pimp.

However, there are lots of layers to Murray which would not appear to be obvious.  He lives with a much younger black woman (singer Jill Scott) and is a doting father to her children.  For years, Murray has lived on the outskirts of the local orthodox Jewish community, but long ago stopped being an active part of it.  However, when Murray meets a lonely and sad Hassidic widow named Avigail (Paradis), he thinks that Fioravante may be the cure for her sadness.

Of course, in this staid and traditional world where a woman can not even be seen with her hair uncovered, the idea of a widow alone with a man – any man – is cause for scandal.  This is ramped up by the fact that Dovi (Schreiber), a community cop, has been in unrequited love with Avigail since they were kids, and takes it upon himself to get to the bottom of exactly what is going on here.

Therefore, while much of the gigolo storyline is a little bit hard to buy – in what world does a rich, beautiful, married female dermatologist casually tell one of her older, nebbishy patients that she is looking for someone for a ménage à trois with her and one of her friends? – if you allow the movie its central conceit, it pays off with eccentric low-keyed charm.

John Turturro’s central character of Fioravante would also not exactly be most people’s idea of a male sex worker.  He’s too old, and while he’s fairly handsome, he could hardly be called an ideal male specimen.  However, the film does a good job in showing why Fioravante would become so popular as a male escort – he is quiet, thoughtful, a very good listener, caring, a good cook, knows how to arrange flowers and is very deferential to a woman’s needs.

There are a lot of very smart, off-the-wall ideas in Fading Gigolo.  Not all of them work – in particular a court of Hassidic elders borders on parody and crass stereotyping.  However, a lot more of them work than you might expect.  Fading Gigolo is a low-key and odd little movie, but it’s got more than its share of allure.  Much like the character of Fioravante himself, it may not be what you’re expecting going in, but it turns out to be a very pleasant surprise.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2014 All rights reserved. Posted: January 24, 2014.


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