“What the hell did I just watch?” That was the first thought that went through my head as I was sitting through the credits of John Turturro’s vanity project, Fading Gigolo. Aside from the always reliable Allen-esque performance by the man himself, and a couple of “ha ha” moments, I couldn’t help but think there was a point here I must’ve missed.
Murray’s (Woody Allen) bookstore is closing. Being short on cash, he takes advantage of his dermatologist, Dr. Parker’s (Sharon Stone) query of whether or not Murray knows a man who would be willing to have a ménage à trois with her and her friend (Sofia Vergara). He references his friend and former employee, Fioravante (John Turturro), a man who has no experience as a gigolo, but who is “good with women.” Fioravante at first thinks this plan is absurd, asking, “You want to turn me into a ho?” But, after a few successful runs, realizes that he enjoys the extra money. Murray eventually introduces Fioravante to a widow of a Hassidic rabbi named Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a woman whose loneliness persuades her to go against her religion’s strict laws of modesty by allowing Fioravante to give her a back massage. Meanwhile, Dovi (Liev Schreiber) a neighborhood patrolman who is in love with Avigal, is suspicious of her actions and follows her and Murray around, leading Murray to be interrogated by a Jewish court. Fioravante eventually develops strong feelings for Avigal, and vice versa, and he begins to question the morality behind what he is doing.
This movie is–for lack of a better word–strange. It requires suspension of disbelief. I mean, it’s a little bit crazy to think that women as beautiful as Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara would ever have to pay a man for sex, much less some older guy who looks like John Turturro. Also, Woody Allen as a pimp–enough said. Then, the whole Hassidic Jew aspect of the story felt out of place. It seemed a bit like it was making fun of the religion. And is it really necessary for something as extreme as meeting a woman whose religion doesn’t even allow her to show her real head of hair be the reasoning for Fioravante to find a human connection and question what he is doing? Or was that even her purpose to the story? I’m not sure, it might’ve gone over my head. Or maybe the only reasoning for it was for Woody Allen to have a platform for which he can make the same old jokes about his religion. On top of that, there’s hardly any kind of transformation that Fioravante goes through. The ending hints that the main character has, in fact, learned nothing.
Another thing that bothered me about this movie was John Turturro’s performance. This is a guy who has a shining personality that often comes through in a lot of his off beat roles. I can think of quite a few I’ve liked from Coen brothers’ or even Spike Lee’s movies. Hell, his roles in numerous crappy Adam Sandler movies and…dare I say it? Transformers movies…are more interesting than this one. You would think since he wrote and directed this he would’ve given himself a better personality. He’s like a zombie. I don’t know if he was trying to be mysterious or cool, but it didn’t work. Instead, it looked as though he was in some kind of stupor the entire time.
If it weren’t for Woody Allen doing what he does best (playing himself), and for the more sentimental and endearing part that Vanessa Paradis played, this movie would’ve really missed the mark, in my opinion. I’ll even give credit to Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara for somehow being able to pull off women who want to have sex with a catatonic man exceedingly well.
Fading Gigolo is somewhat similar to your run-of-the-mill Woody Allen movie, and maybe its biggest problem is that it’s not actually a Woody Allen movie. It has some of the same quirkiness, but not as much cleverness. As much as I like Allen and Turturro in general, this movie’s story unfortunately falls flat due to its off balance comedic and sentimental tones, a misplaced and strange focus on the flaws of Jewish society, and a main character who is neither believable nor memorable.