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Film review: Fading Gigolo ***

By Alexia Evripidou

A surprisingly simple yet very likeable film. Will Fading Gigolo be in the running for an Oscar or BAFTA nomination? Realistically speaking, no. Fading Gigolo may not be the best romantic New York comedy ever made but what it is though, is a comforting and lovable, low-key film, that will keep a little smile etched on your face throughout. Sending you home feeling happy and amused.

Set in the nostalgic streets of New York, the film entertains with a pleasurable cast of well known and loved actors. These include: neurotic Jewish funnyman Woody Allen, Basic Instinct star and the still stunning Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, John Turturro, Liev Schreiber and gapped tooth beauty Vanessa Paradis. It is written and directed by The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou? actor John Turturro, who favourably casts himself as Fioravante, the middle aged unlikely ladies man.

Fioravante, who was named after a tall cabbage like flower, had his arm twisted by an old friend, book shop owner Murray (Woody Allen) to take on a late-life career change as an escort. Murray regrettably has to close down his little New York book shop and with the help of Fioravante they box up the books and pass time with light conversation. Murray casually mentions how his dermatologist and her friend (Sofia Vergara) are considering a ménage à trois. As one does when one is looking at a 78 year old’s dermatological skin condition. I never said that this film was remotely believable, only that it is entertaining.

Unbeknown to Fioravante, Murray recommends his friend for the job. He sells this to his buddy pretty poorly initially but as Fioravante realises how strapped he is for cash, and with only a part time job in a florist as income, the idea slowly becomes attractive.

The clever but unlikely collaboration between Turturro and Allen is funny and incredibly watchable. As ever, Allen plays Allen; a babbling thinking neurotic Jewish man, but he does it so well and Allen fans will enjoy his gentle but persuasive granddaddy pimp character in this film. Allen’s character serves to complement Turturro’s more strong and silent one.

The comedy between them lies both in the humorous verbal exchanges and in the visual aspect of this unlikely coupling; a white haired grandfatherly Allen technically becoming the flower arranger’s pimp. The sheer absurdity of the 78-year-old Allen turning to pimping late in life is comic brilliance.

The ladies begin to fall for this unlikely suave and caring Don Juan and business begins to boom until Murray sets Fioravante up with a widow friend of his. A devout Hasidic Jewish mother named Avigal who is played by the engaging Vanessa Paradis. Avigal was married to a Rabi and has only six children, as she ‘struggled to fall pregnant’. As a married woman, Avigal is not permitted to leave the house, let alone have contact with other men.

Face to face with this lonely and vulnerable woman, Fioravante can’t help but fall in love with her. With his mind and heart now distracted, business inevitably becomes affected and his mojo says goodbye.

Avigal and Fioravante begin a tender friendship, but the jealous community cop (Liev Schreiber) notices that something is amiss and kidnaps Murray, who popped out to pick up milk and laundry. A comical scene commences as a group of big Hasidic Jewish men bundle the small gabbling Murray into a car and take him to be trialed by the religious heads.

Although, the ‘courtroom’ scene doesn’t really add anything to the film, the abduction was fun.

The film does border on the preposterous side, however, as a director Turturro manages to keep the scenes grounded in real life situations that centre on the characters rather than the plot. Fading Gigolo showcases New York’s melting pot neighbourhood, where African-Americans, Italians and Hasidic Jews are all part of each other’s lives. Murray himself is married to an African American lady and seems to have adopted her many children. He even takes his adopted children to teach the Jewish ‘chosen’ kids to play baseball together.

The making of the film apparently came together thanks to Turturro’s barber. Turturro, who happens to share the same barber with Allen, was chatting to him about a funny and unusual idea he had involving Allen becoming a pimp. The barber (probably while snipping Allen’s hair) gossiped this information to Allen, who liked the idea and arranged contact with Turturro. And that is how it happens in Hollywood!

Maybe this film was produced as a result of Turturro’s personal midlife fantasy or maybe he was just trying to have fun with some talented actors. Whatever his intentions, Turturro’s managed to create one of the funniest roles Allen has had in years and a sweet film that is very difficult to dislike.

DIRECTED BY John Turturro
STARRING John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sofia Vergera, Vanessa Paradis
USA 2013 90mins

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