Title: Fading Gigolo
Director: John Turturro
Major Players: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis
Out Of Five: 3.5
When is a Woody Allen film not a Woody Allen film? When it’s John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo.
And if you didn’t know, would you be able to tell? Released this Friday, Fading Gigolo has all the hallmarks of Allen’s style, especially from the late 80s, the time of Hannah and Her Sisters and Broadway Danny Rose. The affectionately shot New York setting, the Jewish family and tight knit community, the quick humour and trademark one-liners – “Hassidic?” “No. Acidic.” The difference is that, instead of the usual Allen angst, we get a certain wry savviness.
Although it has Allen on the cast list, it’s one of the few films in which he stars, but stays firmly in front of the camera. This time he’s Murray, forced to close down his second hand book shop, so that both he and his part time assistant, Fioravante (Turturro) will be short of the readies. The latter has another side line, though, working in a florist. By chance, Murray’s dermatologist has mentioned that she and her friend are interested in a ménage and he’s suggested Fioravante as the man for the job. And so begins a series of meetings with women, which culminates in his meeting Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a young widow.
The question is, of course, who is the fading gigolo of the title? At the outset it seems like it’s Fioravante and, if it is him, he’s not so much fading, as unlikely. He’s not instantly attractive or charismatic but, as we get to know him, he has a certain appeal: underneath that quiet exterior, he’s thoughtful and understanding. And he turns out to be rather good at his new chosen profession. But actually, it’s not him at all. It’s Allen. He’s great at talking to women, steering them in the direction of Fioravante and talking is pretty much all he can do nowadays as he’s past his prime, as it were. Making him the perfect pimp.
And that’s what he is. The film brushes over the seamier realities of the situation in much the same way as Pretty Woman. In Avigal’s words, Fioravante brings “magic to the lonely.” But this time the starting point for the film is on shakier ground. Why would a dermatologist – or any medic, come to that – mention to a client that she and a friend fancy having a threesome? It’s far-fetched and it’s probably the film’s biggest weakness.
But if you can overlook this, there’s plenty to appreciate, especially in the acting stakes. The combination of Turturro and Allen is delightful, the former quiet and unassuming and the latter wisecracking, generating most of the laughs – to the extent that when he’s not on the screen, the laughs disappear. That’s not a criticism, because they’re also intentionally the more serious moments. Vanessa Paradis is especially good as Avigal, the lonely young widow. Her community dictates a long list of rules she has to obey, yet she longs for love and tenderness and finds it in an unexpected place, which literally moves her to tears.
Fading Gigolo is a perfect Sunday afternoon film for adults. Despite the dodgy premise, and looking like it was made by somebody else, it’s warm hearted, likeable and funny. And just a touch bittersweet.
Fading Gigolo is released around the UK on Friday, 23 May.