If you can buy the absurd premise that beautiful, educated women would pay thousands to have sex with John Turturro, you will enjoy Fading Gigolo, written and directed by Turturro, and with a classic performance by Woody Allen. He plays Turturro’s pimp.
The whole thing is laid out in the first scene, when Allen, who plays Murray Schwartz, a used-book salesman who has to close his shop, relates to his friend Turturro that his dermatologist is interested in having a threesome with her girlfriend–does he know anyone? He thinks of Turturro, not a classically handsome man but a smooth operator all the same. After some coaxing, Turturro takes him up on it, meeting the dermatologist (Sharon Stone). A business partnership is born.
This is, of course, pure fantasy, the kind a man might have dozing on a Sunday afternoon on his couch. I think we can all agree that if Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara wanted a man for a threesome, it would be the man who was paying, not vice versa. In actuality, the film really isn’t about the gigolo thing at all, but is instead a romance about two orthodox Jews.
Vanessa Paradis plays a widow. She meets Allen when he takes one of his step-kids (in an inspired twist by Turturro, Allen is keeping house with a black woman and her four children) to be deloused. Paradis, lonely and grieving, is watched attentively by Liev Schreiber, who is a safety patrol officer. He gets suspicious when Allen shows up and escorts Paradis to Turturro’s apartment. The two don’t have sex–he simply puts his hands on her bare skin, and will later see her hair, which is strictly taboo. They fall in love.
So if the film isn’t really sure what it’s about, it’s fun. Allen, who decides to take the name “Dan Bongo” as his pimp name, is at his best. You never really think about Allen as an actor, because he’s usually just playing the “Woody Allen” character–the neurotic intellectual. And he is that here, too, but there’s something a bit more wistful about him.
And he has some great lines. When he acted in The Front almost forty years ago, another film he did not direct or write, I suspected he wrote most of his lines, and I wonder about that here, too. Or else Turturro studied Allen’s films before he switched on the word processor. At one point Allen is hustled into a car by a group of burly orthodox Jews. “I’ve already been circumcised!” he protests. Later, he asks, “What holiday is this?” When Turturro questions his gigolo idea, he asks, “Are you on drugs?” and Allen responds, “Other than my Zoloft, no.” When describing Vergara, he says, “She’s a miracle of physics. I don’t know she stays up.”
Turturro’s cameraman, Marco Pontecorvo, has also studied Allen’s films, as he shoots Manhattan and Brooklyn with a special glow. It’s a nice little film.
My grade for Fading Gigolo: B.