erik lundegaard

Fading Gigolo
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Fading Gigolo (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

In an eighth-season episode of “M*A*S*H,” a beautiful war correspondent (Susan St. James) ignores the advances of Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) because she’s completely smitten by, and keeps making passes at, B.J. Hunnicutt (Mike Farrell). The episode was written and directed by Farrell. Nice work if you can get it.

I flashed back to that long-forgotten episode while watching “Fading Gigolo,” a light comedy written and directed by John Turturro. In it, Turturro plays Fioravante, a part-time florist/bookseller in Brooklyn, who, at the behest of his friend and mentor Murray (Woody Allen), becomes a gigolo, and winds up being paid to have sex with, among others, Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara.

Written byJohn Turturro
Directed byJohn Turturro
StarringJohn Turturro
Woody Allen
Vanessa Paradis
Liev Schreiber
Sharon Stone

Nice work if you can get it.

Should we worry about the ego it takes to create this kind of story? “I will write and direct a character, whom I will play, who is unassuming but considered sexy by everyone around him; and who will have sex with many sexy women and fall in love with one beautiful woman.” Or should we just consider whether it’s worth our time?

It’s not really worth our time.

Woody on trial

The best thing about “Fading Gigolo” is Woody Allen. He’s funnier than he’s been in years.

At one point, for example, members of the Shomrim, a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood watch group, take Woody/Murray into custody, and he tells them, in his hapless, stammering manner, “I think you’ve got the wrong guy—I’ve already been circumcised.” I burst out laughing. Later, as they lead him into a basement tenement, he says, “Why are you taking me here? What holiday is this?” Are these Turturro’s lines? Did Woody improvise? Whatever, it worked.

To be honest, this should’ve been the movie, or at least the framework for the movie. Murray is being put on trial for crimes against … the neighborhood? His faith? His lack of? What power does this Hassidic court have? Woody’s lawyer, Sol (Bob Balaban in baseball cap), seems to take it seriously. But it would’ve made a great framing device: Woody on trial, and flashbacks to how he got there: the crimes real and imagined and non-existent.

Instead, in the movie, he starts out simply as a guy losing his business: M. Schwartz & Sons: Rare and Used Books. “These days,” he laments to his assistant, Fioravante, “only rare people buy rare books.” In nearly the same breath, he mentions that his dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Stone), wants her and her friend, Selima (Vergara), to engage in a ménage à trois with someone, but they can’t find that someone. So Murray tells Fioravante that he suggested him. And thus the world’s oldest partnership begins.

I didn’t buy it. Turturro as gigolo, yeah, whatever. But women like Stone and Vergara can’t find man to engage in a ménage? Honey, open a phone book.

But I particularly didn’t buy the rest of it. Murray winds up in a Hassidic neighborhood, where he visits Avigal (a stunning Vanessa Paradis), the wife of a deceased rabbi, who’s still in mourning, and who exudes loneliness. So Murray hooks her up with Fioravante.

Does he mean for sex? Paid sex? This woman who can’t show her hair to another man and must wear a kerchief or wig all the time? Does he communicate this to Fioravante? Does Turturro as writer-director communicate it to us? It was both unbelievable and obvious: unbelievable the way it’s set up and obvious the way it turns out. I immediately assumed Fioravante would help open up Avigal, and they would fall in love, and he would give up the gigolo business.

And that’s pretty much what happens.

A sop to Spike

Dovi (Liev Schrieber), a member of the Shomrim, is the wild card. He’s in love with Avigal, and he follows her to make sure nothing bad happens to her. And she leads him to Fioravante, who leads him to Murray, which leads us to the trial. Another sex-crime trial for Woody Allen.

Ultimately, Avigal helps exonerate Murray, and near the end, Dovi drives Avigal to Fioravante’s place, where, instead of embracing Fioravante, she says her good-byes. Because she’s to be with Dovi. Does she love Dovi the way he loves her? We never got a sense of it before. But it wraps things up neatly. Like stays with like. The Mediterranean is again used to open up, sexually and spiritually, the repressed northerner.

There are other oddities throughout. For some reason—a humorous sop to Spike Lee?—Woody, who is 78, is married to, or living with, a middle-aged black woman, Othella (Tonya Pinkins), and they have … five kids? Are they his? How old is Murray supposed to be anyway? During the gigolo montage—women being pleasured, money changing hands—Fioravante has an encounter outside a hotel with a beautiful prostitute (model Eugenia Kuzmina), who is trying to solicit him, and he turns her down. Not nicely, either. At the end, in the neighborhood diner, they meet another beautiful, unattached woman (supermodel Loan Chabanol), who is the Autumn to the Summer of Avigal; she’s the future fish in the sea for Fioravante. Because that’s how filmmakers like to end these types of movies: with the unattached supermodel just waiting for the unremarkable guy to say a few unremarkable words. As in life.

“Fading Gigolo” has a certain soporific charm, and it does well by its mostly Brooklyn locations, and it has a nice soundtrack of not-bad, soporific standards. But … yeah. I found myself nodding off halfway through. I wanted to tell Turturro, who was working so hard, “Wake me up when you’re done.”

—May 12, 2014

© 2014 Erik Lundegaard

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