TIFF 2013: Fading Gigolo
John Turturro writes, directs, and acts in this light-hearted adult comedy about a man struggling to find his place and the man who finds it for him in an unexpected way. Fading Gigolo is the story of a man who is approached with the idea of becoming a gigolo after his friend’s bookstore is forced to close. It is a film about finding companionship and purpose in the last place you expect to find it.
Fioravante (Turturro) works part time as a florist and makes very little money. His friend Murray (Woody Allen) owns a rare book store that is being forced to close. Murray, on a visit to his dermatologist Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), gets into a conversation with her that turns to sex. She confides in him that she and her friend have decided they want to have a sexual experience together with a man, and asks Murray if he knows anyone. He tells her that he does but that it will cost her a thousand dollars. Murray was thinking that Fioravante would be that man. Highly reluctant, Fioravante eventually agrees to give it a try with just Dr. Parker to see how it goes. He succeeds beyond both hers and his own expectations and thus begins Murray’s new business, ensuring he gets his share of the money.
Fioravante and Murray, taking the names “Virgil Howard” and “Dan Bongo”, begin making a reputation for themselves around their Jewish neighbourhood. As Fioravante becomes more experienced, he surprises himself that he’s enjoying the companionship of these women. Dr. Parker introduces him to her friend Selima (Sophia Vergara), who also enjoys his company. The three of them decide they would like to try the experience together. At the same time, Fioravante is introduced to a new client by the name of Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), who is an orthodox Jewish widow hiding herself inside. His gentle touch begins to open her up to new experiences again and they begin to fall for each other. This happens under the close watchful eye of Dovi (Live Schreiber), a member of the neighbourhood watch, who doesn’t take to kindly to Murray’s questionable behaviour and the entire operation becomes a complicated mess. In what was supposed to be emotionless sex and companionship, Fioravante finds something he didn’t even realize he was looking for.
Both Woody Allen and John Turturro give charming and likeable performances and have great chemistry together. This is a sexy and seductive comedy, with beautiful women, but ultimately suffers from poor writing and muddled direction. The initial setup of the story is well executed but as the film wears on, the resolution and character arcs become convoluted and disorganized making the overall journey less impactful.
Setting the film in an orthodox Jewish neighbourhood was intended to add the necessary conflict to the story but instead felt forced, under-developed, and out of place to the rest of the story. Creating a story arc that the characters have to resolve could have come from a number of other more believable sources so this was an unfortunate choice.
The film works well as an alternative choice at the multiplex and should find an audience with its intended market; it was just not executed well enough to live up to the overall potential of the idea. Allen and Turturro make a great team and would likely continue to do well if they worked together in the future but perhaps they need to start from a stronger script in order to make the film they are both capable of. Fading Gigolo is an enjoyable film but ultimately plays it too safe, becomes stale, and ends up being a rather tame piece of forgettable cinema.