May 14, 2014

Fading Gigolo is a Low-Key yet Heartfelt Lark

Movie Pick

Woody Allen and John Turturro

FADING GIGOLO (R) John Turturro's latest movie, Fading Gigolo, is a low-key yet heartfelt lark. The premise is ridiculous: a middle-aged rare-bookstore clerk, Fioravante (Turturro), is forced to find new income when the bookstore closes shop for good, so he turns to prostitution to pay the bills. His boss and friend, Murray (Woody Allen), is the catalyst behind this screwball scheme and convinces Fioravante to sleep with a variety of women, including two beautiful, wealthy clients—wonderfully played by Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara—for $1,000 a pop. Fioravante is reluctantly game at first, but his conscience isn't really bothered once the cash is in hand. Then he meets a Hasid widow,  Avigal (Vanessa Paradis),  and his heart blooms while confusion swirls in his head about his new vocation. 

Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese and Spike Lee have all documented New York City vibrantly and memorably. Turturro as a director  knows his way around the city as well (the movie was shot in Williamsburg), and many of Fading Gigolo's best scenes are the ones simply showing New Yorkers doing their everyday thing—grabbing grub in small diners, shopping for groceries in corner shops and savoring the perfect egg cream. Fading Gigolo feels lived-in and authentic in those moments. It's also gently mournful for a New York fading away underneath another coat of glitzy paint, gentrification and seemingly easier ways of navigating through modern life. 

Turturro has always been an engaging character actor. As a director, he's been idiosyncratic and eccentrically personal, but he's always worn his heart on his sleeve. Fading Gigolo is perfunctorily directed at times, but Turturro's love of the city always shines through—a traffic accident becomes a stage for a comic showdown; a Hassidic tribunal becomes a forum of farce; a baseball game between African American and Jewish children becomes an amusing cultural microscope. Turturro is effectively doing a Woody Allen here, since Allen has abandoned the city since 2001 and re-focused on Europe as his location of choice. As an actor, Allen is wonderful. The real revelation, however, is French pop star/actress Paradis, who has never been utilized well over here by any director. Her performance is subtle and quietly transfixing. She needs to hire a better agent.