When the HBO comedy Hung, about a male PE teacher/prostitute living in Detroit trying to make ends meet, got cancelled, I doubt you gave it a second thought. I doubt you sat down and wondered where else could this concept take me? And I truly doubt you said, “What if John Turturro played the prostitute and Woody Allen played his pimp?” Well regardless of your lack of thought on these ideas, John Turturro presents his own spin on them in Fading Gigolo. Part male fantasy and part satirical take on the state of life, passion, and Judaism, Fading Gigolo is hard not to like on some level, mostly due to the relationship between its central duo.
It’s hard out there for a florist…especially in New York City. Fioravante (Turturro) has been watching his bills steadily rise as his days at the flower shop are being cut like the stems of his roses. That is until his friend Murray (Allen) approaches him with a wild idea. Murray too is in financial woe, having to close his rare bookstore and trying to contribute expenses for his roommate (Jill Scott) and her four young boys. After overhearing that his sexy dermatologist (Sharon Stone) is interested in having an affair, Murray instantly suggests his friend Fiorvante for the job at the low, low price of $1000. And just like that, Fiorvante and Murray are the world’s unlikeliest pair to be employed in the world’s oldest profession.
The ridiculousness of this concept takes some getting used to, but it is still quite enjoyable to watch. Allen channels his neurotic confidence with panache and the absurd plot allows him to deliver some one-liners that are among some of his best. Murray turns out to be an effective pimp, even setting up Fiorvante with a ménage-a-trois with Stone’s dermatologist character and her gorgeous friend played by Sofía Vergara. I told you it was one part male fantasy.
Turturro as writer/director also pairs this fantastical storyline with another subplot involving a widowed Hasidic Jewish woman named Avigal (Venessa Paradis) living in an Orthodox neighborhood and who happens to be excellent at curing head-lice in young children. When Murray’s roommate’s children become afflicted with lice, he takes them to Avigal and upon meeting her, he sees a woman who could perhaps benefit from the talents of Fiorvante. This is the craziest plot development of the entire film; this strange but sweet comedy suddenly turns its gaze on the traditions and gender roles of the Hasidic faith.
Nonetheless, Fiorvante and Avigal do have some chemistry and begin to fall in love, allowing Avigal to strike back at the loneliness that comes with being a widowed wife of a Rabbi. It is easy to see this development as somewhat offensive to this subset of the Jewish tradition, but upon further analysis of what Turturro’s doing here, it is actually a fascinating piece of satire. Fiorvante’s chief obstacle in his relationship with Avigal is an obsessive neighborhood watchman named Dovi (Liev Schreiber) who does not approve of Avigal’s sudden disregard for some Hasidic traditions. Dovi is an authority figure and while he clearly wants to appear to uphold his religious traditions, he can not admit that his true interest is not in religious law but Avigal.
In a scene late in the film, Turturro’s character stands static inside a revolving carousal staring out at the camera and at Avigal. It serves as a metaphorical moment that reminds us that we are all on this crazy merry-go-round called life together and sometimes love finds us in the strangest of circumstances. Therefore, a relatively fair message sifts its way through the comedy and oddness of this film; Fiorvante’s romances with rich, bored, spoiled housewives are very different than those who simply want contact and companionship. I’m not sure if a 57 year old prostitute and his 79 year old pimp are the best messengers for this point, however. Woody Allen fans will enjoy this obvious nod to Allen’s style and subject matter by Turturro. However, some may not find this movie very appealing, but I assure you it’s smarter than it sounds. B-
Fading Gigolo is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 30 minutes.