by Jeff Klayman
The “Woodman” is back, aka Woody Allen, and it’s great to see him again in a major role, albeit not in one of his own films. John Turturro’s quasi melancholy comic slice of New York life, Fading Gigolo is a film in search of an identity, straddling several genres and, although there are indeed moments to cherish and enjoy, one leaves feeling one has been to a banquet but somehow coming away still hungry for a bit more.
Turturro who wrote and directed, too, plays Fioravante, a somewhat dour, approaching middle-age book store clerk on the verge of forced unemployment when the rare book store owned by his employer, Allen, goes belly-up—given that there are almost no independent book stores anywhere, anymore, certainly a believable situation.
Allen’s Murray Schwartz, (still cashing in on his hypochondriachal persona from past films) is told by his dermatologist (Sharon Stone, -yes!) that she’s been thinking of doing a ménage a trois with her best friend played by Sofia Vergara. Contrived or not, this puts the proverbial light bulb over Woody’s head, and he immediately suggests pimping out Turturro to do the job. After some initial not-too-convincing reluctance, Turturro agrees to at least have a meet and greet with Stone’s Dr. Parker. If she was expecting a 20-something hot stud, her disappointment is soon erased by the serious sexiness, care and intellectualism of her intended “trick.”
Most of the film’s action takes place in Williamsburgh, Brooklyn where Fiorvanti lives comfortably among the neighborhood’s Hasidic Jewish majority. His modest but well-appointed apartment becomes the love-tryst locale, but all the coming and goings attract the concern of suspicious neighborhood-watch “cop,” Dovi (Liev Schreiber), in a good stretch of character, replete with yarmulke, peyos and tzitzis. Dovi has his own hopelessly romantic yearnings to contend with, casting his eye on the beautiful but repressed widow Avigal of Vanessa Paradis. Her scene, expertly deboning a fish that Turturro cooks for dinner, is surprisingly and tartly erotic, and Paradis is equally adept at hiding her French accent.
It is great fun to see Allen strut down the street, arms flinging akimbo in his endearing Alvy Singer style from Annie Hall, always encouraging Turturro to keep the new business venture going so he can get his 40 percent of his self-created “ho.”
The final third of “Gigolo” is the least successful, involving a Rabbinical tribunal of sorts, called to order, to “try” Allen’s character for crimes against biblical morality.
Turturro appears to be a servant of two masters in his direction, taking liberally from both Allen and Spike Lee, with whom he worked in several films. If his ambition exceeds his reach, Fading Gigolo is nonetheless a bit of fresh air to enjoy, now that spring has finally arrived. Sit, watch, enjoy. What’s not to like?