fading gigolo

The title of Fading Gigolo implies that the film is about a career gigolo who is in his twilight years. That certainly sounds like an original premise for a movie. But instead, it’s about a middle-aged man who becomes a male prostitute almost on a lark. Which is considerably less interesting. While the title character is motivated by financial need, said need never feels particularly pressing, so it comes across more as a man diving into a fantasy of making love to many rich and beautiful women.

It seems even more like a fantasy considering that the role of this gigolo is played by John Turturro, in a part and story that he wrote, in a film that he’s directing. Turturro casts himself as a sexual tiger with whom Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara would eagerly enter a threesome. The self-indulgence doesn’t end there, as Turturro also roped in Woody Allen as his unlikely pimp. It’s very silly, and would be easily forgivable if the movie were funnier, or at least better.

Turturro is Fioravante, a florist whose best friend Murray (Allen) starts connecting him with wealthy, lonely women as a salve for  their mutual money troubles. All of this runs smoothly until Murray gets Fioravante to give the widow Avigail (Vanessa Paradis) a massage, which leads to a strong attraction between the two. This causes Murray to run afoul of Avigail’s Orthodox Jew community, primarily policeman Dovi (Liev Schreiber), who’s been in love with her for a long time.

These two storylines, one about an unlikely gigolo and the whimsically comedic situations he and his pimp get into, the other featuring a chaste and quite tender middle-aged romance, don’t really fit with each other. In fact, you could carve two completely separate short films out of this feature, and both could stand alone. The romance, though, would be significantly better than the comedy.

Turturro is fine – fine as a director, fine as a writer, fine as an actor. I am not the one best fit to judge if he has successfully conjured the carnal allure that his character supposedly possesses, but I read much of what is meant to be strong silence as plain blankness. Which doesn’t help the suspicion that he’s acting out wish-fulfillment here. He’s much better suited to the romance with Paradis, with whom he shares gentle, near-psychic understanding. Turturro would have done better to recognize the depths Paradis brings to her character, the widow of a respected rabbi who tussles with the restrictions her environment tries to bind to her.

Allen is, as always, playing himself, and he does so as well as he’s ever done. Turturro interacts with him more than he does any of the women in the film, and they have a nicely amusing tit-for-tat rapport. Among everything else the movie already is, it’s also a buddy comedy.

Whatever Turturro’s deficiencies with creating a cohesive story, he and his crew do a capable job of making this a good New York story. Upscale Manhattan apartments, dingy Brooklyn shops, and the eruv wire-crossed Orthodox neighborhood all come across in living detail.

Fading Gigolo is good enough to wish it were better. It’d be more intriguing as a film that was actually about what its title suggests it is. Or if it committed to being a comedy about two older men who decide to go into the prostitution business. Or if it were about a florist and a Jewish widow finding love. Or even about a florist/gigolo and a Jewish widow finding love. Or anything, really, besides what it is.