Fading Gigolo

Fading Gigolo

Postby CAP » Tue May 06, 2014 2:59 pm

The Woody Allen movie you have when you’re not having a Woody Allen movie, basically. This is a modest, carefully crafted effort from 2013, written, directed and starring John Turturro with an A-list supporting cast including Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Liev Schreiber and Vanessa Paradis. It’s quite funny in a gentle, teasing way and is really about the eternal exchange of sex for love for sex etc. I give it eight.

The story is no more than a short story. An old man running a secondhand bookstore in New York, Murray (Woody Allen) offers his part time assistant Fioravante (Turturro) work as a gigolo, after Murray unexpectedly broaches the topic in conversation with his dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone). She confided that she was looking for a male partner for a threesome with her good friend Selima (Sofia Vergara). Murray, whose bookshop is failing, grasps at any possible second stream of income. Fioravante is no more than a convenient means by which Murray might involve himself in the transaction, or play pimp. It is of course, wildly implausible, but then that’s part of the fun. Fioravante is tall, dark and in his fifties and obviously of Italian descent. He is, in Murray’s eyes, the archetypal Latin lover. But Fioravante is mostly a shy florist, specializing in elaborate floral arrangements but struggling to make ends meet. We never learn too much about his past or other relationships, which is admittedly a failing, only that he is single and still dates women.

He is not at all interested in Murray’s proposition but as Murray tries to make it seem possible and considers the attractive rewards for all parties, Fioravante reluctantly accedes. The initial encounter is just with a nervous Dr. Parker and Stone is surprisingly good as the older, hard drinking, partying professional with too much disposable income, not quite knowing what she’s let herself in for. She really can do comedy. Anyway, Fioravante proves reassuring and effective for the evening and his fee contains a generous tip. That income stream then tempts Murray to interest another unhappy lady he meets on his rounds of used-book sources, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) – incidentally, throughout the movie I thought they were saying ‘Abigail ‘and was only corrected by the end credits. She is a Hasidic Jewess and widow and again, quite implausibly, she opens up to Murray about her loneliness and in subsequent meetings with him is persuaded to seek consultation from a ‘massage therapist’. Fioravante hastily invests in a massage table and Avigal, again wildly improbably, allows him to unbutton her smock and massage her back. All this is supposed to be a gradual seduction but the session goes no further when Avigal breaks down in tears from the simple touch of another, something she has not experienced since the death of her husband, years ago.

She does return though. Although strictly free or available, she has another interested party in Dovi, (Liev Schreiber) a member of the local Shomrim – a sort of Jewish Neighborhood Watch, but here uniformed and equipped identically with the police. He tails her more out of jealousy than duty. Avigal is aware of his longstanding but distant admiration but possibly deterred by the fact that he’s a bully and basically a corrupt cop. The setting of the Brooklyn Hasidic community is an odd one for Turturro and undoubtedly reflects Allen’s input. There follows comic scenes where Murray is kidnapped by Dovi and other Shomrim officers and dragged before a local court of Hasidic elders over charges of leading Avigal astray, but not before Fioravante can alert Murray’s lawyer, Sol (Bob Balaban) who quickly learns which sect (Hasidic or Haridi) and where Murray has been taken, in order to intercede on his behalf. All this is treated as farce of course and is worthy of a Woody Allen movie and not surprisingly Allen revels in the role of Murray, a character not unlike Broadway Danny Rose, as Joshua Rothkopf at Timeout notes.

But all this really plays as interlude for Fioravente’s next meeting with Avigal, for which he carefully prepares a kosher meal of fish and Avigal demonstrates the correct way of then removing the bones. Guardian critic Catherine Shoard found this scene quite seductive but apparently I missed the symbolism of removing the fish’s spine as unzipping a man's trousers (duh!) and didn’t get much past a little shared intimacy, a little more command from Avigal. :roll: Anyway this time the conversation turns on his own situation and implicit loneliness, something Fioravante has trouble acknowledging. This makes him fall for her, in a vulnerable lost kind of way and gives her a sense of connecting with someone again. It isn’t quite given the space the moment deserves but this is pivotal to the story.

When Fioravante next meets Dr. Parker and Selima for the promised threesome he finds the prospect no longer excites him, even for a doubled fee. Interestingly, Dr. Parker quickly divines the cause – she can see in his eyes that he is love with another – and the sustained close-up of her quietly satisfied smile declares that nothing pleases her more than seeing sex thwarted by love, its power, even at a distance. It really is an impressive cameo from the underrated Stone. But it’s not as if Fioravante and Avigal are about to become an item anyway. Avigal has reached out far enough and now reconsiders her options, in particular the dogged Dovi. She too somehow makes it to the local Hasidic court to plead on behalf of Murray (stretching credibility again, but we’ve gone down the road of farce so far by now, whatever!) and as Dovi drives her home, he still whining, she points out that she has never said that she doesn’t love him – promptly silencing him. Again, it is a very Woody Allen come back and an appropriately abrupt resolution.

The film ends with Fioravante planning to leave town, strike out anew, while the ever opportunistic Murray still pitches further business to him. They sit in a café and Murray engages a beautiful young Frenchwoman at the counter, irresistibly recommending Fioravante as a local handyman. He gives her his card and the two men eye one another quizzically. It is typical of the film’s subtlety and understatement. It’s a small movie that handles these details so delicately you can’t help but be drawn in, even if it isn’t exactly profound or hilarious. Turturro is clearly an actor’s director and capable of far more in his own performances than I’d supposed – although I’ve not seen anything like the 60 odd features he’s appeared in, beginning way back in 1980. But he’s definitely a writer, director and actor to watch for.
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Re: Fading Gigolo

Postby dennirusking » Wed Jun 11, 2014 10:48 pm

Spike Lee meant a lot to me growing up. John Turturro appeared in most of Lee's films, my fave being Do The Right Thing. I have respect for Turturro. Apparently his aim with this film was to draw parallels between sex work and acting, explaining that the latter is a "service business" in which actors are "acting out people's wishes or fantasies." Woody Allen discovered Sharon Stone. Her big break was being a Marilyn Monroe impersonator in Stardust Memories. They also work together in ANTZ and Picking Up The Pieces. It's great that Turturro got them together once more. There are moments that make you laugh and some nice shots but there's something troubling about this film. I can see how this movie could be a big hit in Italy and France. It's Ok. But, when compared to Broadway Danny Rose, Stardust Memories or Do The Right Thing it's rather weak, messy and just... disappointing. Don't believe all the 4 star reviews. Save your money and wait till it's on TV.
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