Week after week I keep panicking about the state of film. Like a grumpy old crank, I'm afraid that the new filmmakers are fueled by profits and formulas and know nothing of the old ways. I fear that when Woody Allen finally bites it, the short and snappy, domestic, relationship-driven picture will go to the boneyard along with him. Anyway, it's a dumb fear. For every Godzilla, there will always be a cluster of tiny, screenplay-driven films swimming around unassumingly in its wake.
With Fading Gigolo, written and directed by beloved actor John Turturro, you get the feeling that Allen co-stars in the film as a stamp of approval. It's a little like how Allen cast Louis C.K. in last year's Blue Jasmine—the comedian's television show "Louie" owes a debt to Allen's style and represents some of the best writing around today. Both instances strikes me as a deliberate effort on Allen's part to control his legacy and pass on the torch to a new generation of filmmakers.
In Fading Gigolo, Turturro stars as Fioravante, a part-time florist who's made to shut down his bookstore in Williamsburg, N.Y. Allen plays his friend Murray who is similarly afflicted by hard times, and in a casual exchange, Murray proposes the idea of pimping out Fioravante to rich, lonely women in the city. They already have a client in mind. Murray's doctor, Dr. Parker (the always imposing and formidable Sharon Stone), wants to hire a professional for a ménage a trois with her friend Selima (Sofia Vergara), but perhaps she should try him out on her own first. It takes Murray maybe 45 cumulative seconds stretched out over a few scenes to sufficiently flatter Fioravante into agreeing to the arrangement. Murray takes a 40-percent cut, which seems high, even for the most downtrodden streetwalker.
- “Hello, I’d like to report a missing person.”
The gigolo and Dr. Parker meet up for the first time, and just like Murray said he would, Fioravante seems to exhibit a natural talent for the work. Fioravante understands that he's there to soothe and comfort as much as he's there to bone. It's a good performance by Turturro. I've always thought he was aggressively ordinary looking, but in this role, he appears virile and sexy. Murray's of the opinion that women don't always like pretty men, and I agree. As for any lingering ethical issues surrounding sex work, the film takes a light-hearted approach. It sees the men performing a kind of public service. Likewise, the women are empowered and in on the joke.
Fioravante meets his match when he's introduced to Avigal (Vanessa Chantal Paradis). She's a traditional Jewish widow whose husband has been dead for two years, but in their first, shy, PG-rated interaction, we get the impression it may have been a lot longer than that since she's been touched. Avigal asks of Fioravante, rather naively, "You bring magic to the lonely?" And he responds in kind, "That's one way to put it." They seem to have fallen in love from the start, and shame on you and your beleaguered heart if you think that's not possible.
Of course, the business gets complicated once feelings are involved. Avigal has an admirer in the form of a glorified neighborhood watchman named Dovi, played by Liev Schreiber with his characteristic aplomb. Dovi becomes suspicious of Murray and Fioravante's operation, and from then on, the green-eyed monster of jealousy fuels a good chunk of the film's forward momentum. People will be abducted from the street and stuffed into cars on their way to scary Jewish tribunals, but really the stakes aren't very high and there's nothing to panic over.
Fading Gigolo is a clunky, tender film with some good laughs and a compelling, unconventional romance. It feels like a Woody Allen movie, but visually, Turturro's film has a distinct, intimate style of its own. Walking out of the theater, the premise may seem so light and airy you think it's going to float up into the sky and out of your mind forever, but give it a few days. You might be surprised just how long the film's sweet, uncomplicated message of love and friendship (all the best things!) endures.
Fading Gigolo plays Thu., July 3, at the Wilma.