Woody polished by shining gigolo Turturro
John Turturro is an eminently watchable enigma. Beloved by art house audiences everywhere, he’s regarded as one of the greatest character actors working (which is to say he looks nothing like George Clooney – a fact well capitalised on here).
He’s perhaps best known for his regular collaborations with the Coen bros: Barton Fink; O Brother, Where Art Thou; Miller’s Crossing – and most notably his screen-stealing five minutes in The Big Lebowski as twinkle-toed bowling ace ‘Jesus’.
This latest work as writer/director follows, amongst others, his semi-documentary Passione (2010) and the uniquely enjoyable musical comedy Romance & Cigarettes (2005). It also marks his second appearance with Woody Allen after briefly showing up in Hannah & Her Sisters (1983).
Turturro convincingly portrays Fioravante, a middle-aged man of few words, living alone and from hand to mouth, after his main income, working in Murray’s (Allen) used-book store, comes to an abrupt end. His only other income is from a part-time job in a flower shop.
As we glimpse the many unpaid bills lying in his mailbox, it’s clear that Fioravante is struggling to make ends meet. That is until Murray’s doctor (Stone) intimates she’d like to spice up her (already spicy) sex-life with a third partner.
Murray immediately nominates Fioravante for the task, who despite his great reluctance, simply can’t afford to turn down the offer of one thousand dollars for an hour’s ‘work’.
Fiorvante finds he has the perfect temperament for the job, receiving a 500 dollar tip for his ‘top shelf’ performance. Soon the pair are raking it in, with Murray taking a generous cut as his pimp.
It’s not long though, before reality asserts itself in the (quite lovely) form of Vanessa Paradis – the widow of a well-respected rabbi in their orthodox Jewish neighbourhood…
Paradis in New York naughty
Woody shines here, bristling with energy and comic invention that is reminiscent of his early work – he’s obviously having fun in a role that was tailored to his particular skill-set.
In fact, the entire film feels like it might be a fond homage to the director’s oeuvre. Certainly, on paper, it’s a New York sex comedy with a soundtrack of warm vintage jazz, so it’s not a million miles from Woodyville.
Sharon Stone provides typically voracious support as Fioravante’s first client whose female Colombian fuck-buddy (Vergara) tempers tango skills with her penchant for putting the ‘man’ back in woman – and proves more than a match for the newly-minted gigolo.
The surprise casting is Paradis, who at first appears an odd choice for the oppressed rabbi’s widow – but her elfin fragility caters well to the character’s vulnerabilities (and strengths) – and crucially, her chemistry with Turturro is undeniable.
Breezy social companion
It’s perhaps the effectiveness of this chemistry that renders the film’s final moments so unsatisfying – a late attempt to blindside the viewer is misguided.
This is unfortunate because, taken in its entirety, Fading Gigolo breezily examines sexual politics within a religious and moral framework that often results in hilarity and a sweet-but-never-cloying poignancy.
Dir: John Turturro
US comedy, 2013, 90 mins
Woody Allen, John Turturro, Sofía Vergara, Sharon Stone, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber
Premiered May 8