John Turturro is one of those actors that, despite delivering wonderful performances in critically-acclaimed movies (Quiz Show, Do the Right Thing, The Big Lebowski), has yet to earn a role that catapults him from awesome supporting star to leading man (a category of which only a few selected thespians--like George Clooney--have been able to boast).
So in that respect it's great that Turturro has challenged himself by directing his own projects (like 2005's Romance and Cigarettes), some in which he's the star. Having acted in nearly 100 movies, he's clearly acquired a coveted rolodex that allows him to enlist in such talent as Susan Sarandon and Kate Winslet for his films. Which brings us to FADING GIGOLO, his fifth and latest directorial effort that reunites him with Woody Allen, who directed him in Hannah and Her Sisters. Turturro plays Fioravante, a Brooklyn florist who finds himself as a male prostitute after his friend Murray (Allen) proposes an offer to him that he can't refuse--pimping out his self-assessed wilted sexual charm to available and willing women, coincidentally in order for him to experience love again. A not-so-unfamiliar concept that at its best reveals the film to be a romantic comedy, FADING GIGOLO's meandering plotline is what ultimately does it in.
For what it's worth, the beginning of the film is genuinely engaging. It's when we learn about this unusual proposition posed by Murray in a rambling discourse (made more entertaining by Allen's natural onscreen quirkiness). Fioravante is tranquilly clipping flowers at the shop, when Murray shows up with his unconventional idea that will not only get Fioravante back into the dating game (albeit in not the most orthodox way), but will also make them both some money (Murray has figured that he would take a cut of Fioravante's earnings--40, maybe 50 percent). Fioravante is hesitant at first, even revealing to Murray that he doesn't consider himself to be a good looking man, certainly not a woman magnet. Murray convinces him that this is nonsense and not every woman is after the same type. This propels interesting yet brief commentary about romance after a certain age and the subjectivity of sexuality. Seeing as though Turturro himself is a 57-year-old man, I was hoping that the movie would go deeper in this direction of a mature romance.
But it doesn't. The film's rather basic progression floats along without exploring some of its more important themes: aging, dating in the millenial age and even inter-religious relationships. I have a feeling if Fioravante was a woman, this would have gone in an entirely different direction. Unfortunately, inter-religious romance is something that is approached in a comedic way after a recently widowed Jewish woman (Vanessa Paradis) named Avigal enters Fioravante's life once he's accepted his new position as a middle-aged hustler. The two are unexpectedly drawn to each other, despite their arrangement--compelled by their respective loneliness. But they must contend with a similarly devout--yet silly--neighborhood watchman (Liev Schreiber), who may or may not be in love with Avigal, and a collective of men who wag their fingers at the relationship between Fioravante (who doesn't claim a religion) and Avigal. Meanwhile, Murray is being chased down by a separate but related set of officers who are convinced--with reason--that he is involved in the unlawful hookup of Fioravante and Avigal. (I have trouble believing this is something that is indicative of the culture, and Turturro creates a rather clumsy depiction of it).
FADING GIGOLO is a ridiculous little romp that while it flirts with the idea of an "average-looking" prostitute who's also a gentleman, it neatly bypasses a few interesting plotlines along the way. For instance, Sharon Stone's portrayal of a bitter wife could have been more intriguing had Turturro delved into her character a bit more. Dr. Parker (Stone) is relegated to a marginal role as a frisky wife who falls in lust with Fioravante, while she subconsciously analyzes him. Sofía Vergara's oversexed Selima is not written any better; she is merely Dr. Parker's sexy associate who's focused on a ménage à trois. They're clearly fluff. It would have been more interesting had the film presented the idea of an "average," middle-aged man searching for love in the oversexed and disconnected age of millenial dating. Or even the challenge of a heterosexual man like Fioravante choosing not to date under the judgmental microscope of society.
As it is, FADING GIGOLO bounces from scene to another without connecting with the audience. Even Murray's flighty interaction with his African-American romantic companion, Cee Cee (Jade Dixon) seem hurried and glossed over, as well as the awkward racial commentary that emerges as a result. Are we to assume that the takeaway is that none of these characters can have much of a connection with their significant others in the unreliable and dizzying nature of New York City? We don't really get to know any of these characters long enough to come flatly to that conclusion. Plus, the film's more delicate (and best) moments between Fioravante and Avigal, seem to paint a different picture. While FADING GIGOLO has potential, the delivery makes it a wholly frustrating watch.
FADING GIGOLO is in select theaters Friday. Watch the trailer: