John Turturro writes and directs his fifth film, Fading Gigolo, and weaves an interesting narrative to say the very least. In short, Fading Gigolo is about John Turturro and Woody Allen playing, no joke, “a pimp and a prostitute.” Let that sink in, because you probably won’t believe it until you see it. No, this is not a ’70s revival film, nor is it a wacky Austin Powers inspired narrative. This is quite a sophisticated, upscale, and frank story about people looking for a connection, and a very particular one at that.
With ‘Giggilo’ in the title, one might think that connection means sex and all the escapades that go along with the world’s oldest profession. But Turturro handles it with delicacy. It’s a comedy – a very human one at that – and it’s delivered and exists without being raw, insensitive or, conversely, overly sentimental. Sure, he throws in a series of zany characters, but each are underplayed and that’s where Turturro’s magic exists.
Still, when you have Woody Allen (whether he’s playing a character or himself, we really can’t tell) you know it’s not going to be Shakespeare. As Murray Master Mo, he and Turturro’s Virgil take to prostitution when Murray’s doctor, Sharon Stone, admits to always wanting have had a “menage.” This gets Murray’s wheels turning as a pay to play endeavor could a way to save their failing bookstore. Rather than face unemployment, this a job, err, work, and they aren’t going to turn down the money. They’re doing it for the books, so can you blame them?
Murray, more or less, volunteers Virgil into his scheme. Yes it’s a little manipulative, but think of all the books they’ll save! And when Woody Allen is pulling the prostitution purse strings, you tend not to notice the deviousness of the situation. In a way this is an updated and mature version of the Patrick Dempsey movie Loverboy. But the goal for any arrangement Murray makes is that there are, “no strings attached.” Turturro’s character Virgil finds he has a knack because he’s able to offer his “clients” a real connection that is more meaningful than one that happens under the sheets. Rest assured, there’s nothing manipulative or malicious about the story, Turturro’s narrative is like a Trojan (see what I did there?) horse to tell a story about people finding themselves.
So goes this yarn about relationships, life choices, fish and Shabbos dinner and conversations in the park – not a series rollicking sexual encounter. There is tenderness in the story which doesn’t come from sexy women like Sofía Vergara and Stone. Sure, they are eye-candy, but the writing and wonderful delivery from the cast is what really sells Turturro’s efforts. And wait til you see Allen teach inner-city kids about baseball!
As admirable is John Turturro’s film is, there are a lot of ideas explored without resolution. Maybe that reflects life? Now Turturro told us personally that he feels there is resolution, but the film feels disjointed in its delivery. It’s difficult to go back and forth between tenderness and humor, adding in little bits of drama here and there, but who cares when the finale is Woody Allen’s first and ever courtroom scene?
So, Fading Gigolo is a mixed bag, and is able to evoke the desired emotions even if Turturro bites off more than he can chew. But in the hands of somebody less talented subtle, this could have been an entirely schmaltzy affair. The fact that it works at all, barring the humor which can down play a lot of plot missteps, says a lot. It’s a sign of confidence for Turturro who is now taking on a lot more projects behind the camera. And that can only lead to good things.