I didn’t expect much from Fading Gigolo, but I expected to enjoy it. I expected a light, breezy film with a few laughs, a little drama and an overall happy ending and that’s exactly what I got. Writer, director and star, John Turturro smartly casts Woody Allen in this New York-set slice of life that remains largely innocent in the face of telling the story of an aging bookseller-turned-pimp and a fifty-something junior florist that accepts the job as his gigolo. “Only rare people buy rare books anymore,” says Allen as Murray, but as they two will soon learn, people will still pay for sex, and the oldest profession is alive and well.
Struggling to keep his privately owned book store open, a light bulb goes off in Murray’s head after his dermatologist (Sharon Stone) randomly mentions she and her friend (Sofia Vergara) have been considering a mÃ©nage Ã trois. For whatever reason, she asks Murray if he knows anyone. He says he does and in telling the story to his friend Fioravante (Turturro) he says he was actually thinking of him. And why not? It’s innocent enough and they could both use the extra cash.
A new business venture is born as Fioravante and Murray adopt professional pseudonyms Virgil Howard and Dan Bongo respectively and decide to split the proceeds 60-40. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well.
As Fioravante goes about his work, Murray starts lining up a few clients, but things change once he introduces Fioravante to Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), an orthodox Jewish widow, which simultaneously throws a wrench into Murray and Fioravante’s operation while at the same time attracting the attention of a jealous member of the Jewish neighborhood watch.
The comedy sells itself and is kept relatively low key. Stone and Vergara are quite funny as a pair of sexually desperate johns, Liev Schreiber plays the jealous neighborhood cop and Woody Allen is as enjoyable as you’d expect. Allen simply knows his own strengths and how to play to them. Even as he’s gotten older he uses his age to his benefit. His presence here is a little odd considering Turturro’s New York sensibilities have something of a “bizarro world” feeling compared to Allen’s, but it all still works.
Turturro experiments with camera angles, a shot from high above in Stone’s loft apartment as she and Fioravante meet for the first time is rather striking and I love the way Turturro plays his character. In this initial meeting you sense hesitation at first, but once Fioravante realizes he isn’t the only nervous one he manages to take control and work his mojo.
Meanwhile, Abraham Laboriel and Bill Maxwell‘s score adds to the feeling of the film as a pseudo Woody Allen feature as it bounces to upbeat jazzy tunes, reminding us of exactly what kind of film we’re watching.
Overall this is just a harmlessly enjoyable experience and I love the way it was written with plenty of quirky moments such as the squeak in Murray’s shoes and his raucous home life. It’s small, unassuming and doesn’t use sex to sell its story as much as it says what it needs to and shuffles along.