It’s Woody Allen’s thing to be nebbishly uncomfortable, but he is so out of place in John Turturro’s comedy “Fading Gigolo” that even he can’t quite save it. Turturro’s script starts from a thin premise and manages to find a surprising amount of tenderness and emotion within, but it relies on plot contrivances and supporting players that simply don’t add up.
Allen plays Murray, and he comes to Turturro’s Fioravante with a simple idea: would you have a three-way for money? A “ménage”, he clarifies. This is one of those movies where old, fish-out-of-water men delicately giggle at every sexual word and idea as though they unexpectedly saw it in the Bible in Sunday School. And the bit gets tired fast when they start assuming their alter ego names Virgil and Danny Bongo.
They agree to do this on the basis of being strapped for cash, and the two of them together seem to have no trouble landing middle aged women in need of a pick-me-up. And that ultimately is what “Fading Gigolo” is about: providing women added confidence, care and attention.
Turturro does well to ensure there might be more behind each encounter than sex. In his first meeting with the wealthy and assertive Sharon Stone, there’s no sense that either would have any trouble performing, and yet Turturro finds the innocence in having two people experimenting and trying something new and potentially dangerous. They talk and timidly approach one another, suggesting this is like something out of high school, and the steady and calm Fioravante does something beautiful by sharing a slow dance with her first.
Turturro himself is the highlight of the film, delivering a reserved, modest performance that suggests he’s a reluctant warrior with a powerful skill. He reveals precious little details about his past and never sinks into parody for the sake of a sex joke.
But “Fading Gigolo” is very much tied to the Hasidic Jewish community. Murray meets Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a widow to a devout rabbi, and invites her to unwind with not even sex from Fioravante but a massage. Soon they develop a romantic relationship, but so religious is she and her community that this is treated as an act of sin, leading a community watch officer played by Liev Schreiber to take notice and try and stop it.
Schreiber’s character is hardly believable. He stakes out Fioravante’s apartment and eventually kidnaps Murray to be brought in for a silly Hasidic trial. The segment goes from farce to melodrama in a snap, and Allen comes across as so clueless that it derails the whole thing.
Turturro devotes too much time on this goofy subplot and trying to give Avigal a reason why she might need to come out of her shell that it detracts from the more tender moments he’s capable of delivering. “Fading Gigolo” is a movie about innocence and yet trying to be adult about sex, and like a kid it finds itself giggling at too many naughty ideas.
2 ½ stars