Just before the final schedule for TIFF was announced in late August, the trailer for Fading Gigolo premiered and launched itself to the top of my must-see list. Woody Allen as a pimp, and John Turturro as a gigolo – it sounded like comic gold. Sure enough, I was not the only one to think this way, and the film’s screenings sold out even before single tickets became available. But rather sadly, it appears that same trailer may have been slightly deceiving.
Murray (Allen) is closing shop on his rare book store, and Fioravante (Turturro) is only working sparingly at his flower shop. For some inexplicable reason, Murray’s dermatologist tells him she is interested in having a ménage (as in ménage à trois), and wonders if he knows anyone who would be interested. Murray says he does, and convinces Fioravante to take part. Rather quickly, Fioravante is in high demand with more than just one customer.
While you could have surmised this plot from the trailer for Fading Gigolo, it is only half of the story. The film also has a rather large subplot involving Fioravante and a budding romance with recently widowed client Avigal (Vanessa Paradis). And that is exactly where the problems begin.
Fading Gigolo is really two stories in one, wrapped up into a 90+ minute film. But neither story is fleshed out or even fully resolved by the time the credits come up – they merely conclude, almost randomly, and not even in a finalized way. The film spends very little time introducing us to Fioravante and Murray before jumping right into the first meeting with dermatologist Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone). By the time Avigal is introduced in the second act, the film has merely stitched together ideas, montages and jokes about the bizarre pimp/gigolo/client relationship. After her introduction, these elements are practically abandoned in favour of a romantic subplot. And even that is slowly forgotten about.
It genuinely feels like Turturro had two funny ideas for a film, and then decided to mash them together because he could not figure out what to write after twenty pages. While it is often times hilarious and has some heartfelt scenes, these are just great moments within the film. The story itself falters along aimlessly from the very beginning and never finds the direction it needs to correct itself. Turturro is a gifted actor, but despite having now directed five features, still has not quite figured out how to really make a great story and even better film. By the time the film ends (after a completely asinine attempt at forced Jewish humour), it feels like the whole endeavour was for nothing. It is amusing to see Turturro in a strong and near silent lead role, but he would have been better suited staying behind the camera and really fleshing out the characters and ideas within Fading Gigolo. Even the title of the film looks like it could have used some work.
For a film with this amount of star power, it is sad to say the majority of them do absolutely nothing for the film. Stone and Sofia Vergara are nothing more than gorgeous older women that Fioravante services. The film’s trailer is a showcase for their screentime, as their characters are in virtually no other scenes. Their work together literally amounts to extended cameos. It is disappointing to say the least, and begs the question of why they even decided to appear in the film.
Even the ménage à trois, the idea that sparks the whole gigolo venture, seems to get undercut and goes barely used. Worse off is Live Schreiber, who plays a walking Jewish stereotype. He is above this kind of work, and knows it, but still puts in more effort than this film deserves. His character’s motivations are one-dimensional at best, but somehow he gets more to do than Stone and Vergara. Paradis is wonderful as Avigal, but she is not all that fully rounded. Her romantic subplot with Turturro never feels natural, and her chemistry with him is anything but organic. It is meant to be awkward, but that comes off more than it should. Bob Balaban appears in a memorable role late in the film, but he too comes off more awkward than his character should be.
If anyone comes out of this film unscathed, it is Allen. The film’s main selling point was his playing the unlikely pimp, and he does not disappoint. He plays up his classic Jewish neurosis to great effect, and nails every single one of the film’s best lines. It is unclear if he adlibs some of his lines, or if Turturro has the uncanny ability to write perfect Allen-style dialogue for him. But either way, Allen’s work here is hysterical from beginning to end, and rises above the rest of the mediocrity at play. It is easily the best performance he has given in years, even more so than his acting in his own work. And for such a disappointing film, that says a lot.
I really wanted to love and adore Fading Gigolo, but it is a rather unfortunate disappointment any way you look at it. It has some fun ideas and great moments buried within it, but that is about it. Turturro’s writing and directing is simply not good, and does not match the talent that is involved with the film. It should have been better reworked in the scripting stages or better yet, split into two very different stories and films. If you do seek the film out after its eventual release, watch it for Woody Allen being himself and delivering one of his best performances in years. Just forget everything else that happens when he is not on-screen.
Some genuinely funny ideas and moments are scattered throughout what is otherwise a really disappointing effort from writer/director/actor John Turturro. Woody Allen’s hilarious performance is one of very few reasons to seek it out.