Whatever you think about Woody Allen‘s personal life, his co-stars sure seemed to get a kick out of him in “Fading Gigolo.”
Writer-director-star John Turturro and child actors can’t stop breaking into a grin when they’re on camera with the “Annie Hall” filmmaker in Turturro’s modest and thoroughly enjoyable farce. Allen takes a backseat role in the production, but is in full Woody Allen mode onscreen, riffing in the manner frequently seen in his own movies as Murray, an unlikely pimp to Turturro’s reluctant gigolo.
The movie even opens with jazzy music favored by Allen.
But it’s Turturro who gives the movie its soulful heart. His character Fioravante is both gentle and ribald, much like the movie itself: “Fading Gigolo” jokes about threesomes and pimping but is sensitive to the plight of attention-starved women of a certain age. It certainly doesn’t hurt that those women are portrayed here by Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara and Vanessa Paradis, or that Bob Balaban and Liev Schreiber are along for the ride.
The farce begins when Murray, closing up his family’s rare bookstore, suggests his pal Fioravante join the ménage a trois his dermatologist (Stone) told him she wanted. The catch: Fioravante would do it for hire, with Murray pocketing a healthy cut of the transaction.
When Fioravante demurs, his pal coaxes him into saying yes.
“You are an experienced lover,” he reasons. “Why shouldn’t you get paid for it?”
Before long, Fioravante is shouting “I’m your ‘ho!” to Murray.
When he arrives at Dr. Parker’s fancy apartment with a delicate floral arrangement, neither knows what to make of each other. But Fioravante manages to put the nervous lady doctor (imagine, Sharon Stone, nervous!) at ease.
From there, Fioravante starts consorting with other ladies, including the doctor’s bawdy pal Selima (Vergara) and Avigal (Paradis), a Hasidic widow who longs to be touched — and to read books. Murray, meanwhile, gleefully counts all the money he’s raking in as procurer, buying an outrageously colorful couch for the home he shares with Othella (Tonya Pinkins) and her kids.
They all seem inordinately fond of the schemer. Ditto Avigal’s brood when the kids get together for a baseball game.
Alas, Hasidic community watchdog Dovi (Schreiber) isn’t nearly as amused at Avigal’s visitors. He drags Murray before a rabbinical tribunal to explain himself, with Balaban as his counsel. The scene, one of the best in “Fading Gigolo,” nicely plays off Allen’s identity and would not be out of place in one of his own movies. Indeed, Turturro has credited Allen with helping him shape the project after their mutual barber put them together.
Those on Team Farrow will likely have an issue with “Fading Gigolo,” or with any movie starring Allen, for that matter. And even those that don’t side with either camp will have a hard time keeping the filmmaker’s personal life completely out of mind when he’s cavorting with kids on screen.
But the young actors genuinely seem happy to be there with him, so much so that they laugh through their lines at times. Those character-breaking moments just contribute to the movie’s low-budget vibe; this isn’t the most polished production, but it does have soul.
In any case, it’s Turturro’s movie, and he’s pulled off an amusing romp about romantic constraints in middle age. The idea that age and experience can be a benefit even in the sex trade should assuage anyone with a phobia about growing older.
“Fading Gigolo” may be modest, but it definitely has its charms.