Plot: When his used book store closes down, Murray (Woody Allen) convinces his friend Fioravante (John Turturro) to become a prostitute, with Murray acting as his manager. When Fioravante becomes infatuated with the widow (Vanessa Paradis) of a Rabbi, everything changes for both Fioravante’s business, and the widow.
The first twenty minutes of Fading Gigolo are pretty painful, but it gets better. It’s one of those movies that tries so hard to be charming and quirky, that it actually ends up giving you the opposite reaction. The music is overbearing, and the dialogue is very “We’re saying uncomfortable things, but it’s an old Jewish book store owner saying them, isn’t that funny?” Well, I guess that’s where we should start, with Mr. Woody Allen.
It’s easy to think Woody Allen directed this film. His style is all over it. The man behind the camera though is actually John Turturro. When talking about Allen’s performance, we aren’t reinventing the wheel here. If Woody Allen acts in a movie, you’re going to get Woody Allen. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. You actually get both here in the same film. The very first scene with Allen is a really bad start. One of his first lines of dialogue is along the lines of “You know, my Dermatologist was telling me-” Okay, stop right there. When you read that line, you know exactly what I’m talking about. You can hear Woody Allen’s tone and delivery right there. As he says this line, I simply said to myself, “Oh, here we go. I got to endure this for ninety minutes.” This is a huge problem in the first act because Woody Allen’s character is in almost every scene. Combine Allen’s demeanor with him going into a Hasidic Jewish neighborhood, and you basically have one of the most stereotypical, obnoxious sequences that belong in one of those awful parody movies like Scary Movie 5 or Disaster Movie.
You can imagine where my mind set was in the first half-hour, but to the film’s credit, it actually does a complete 180, and becomes a half-way decent film. It smartly relegates Allen to the background in the second half, and focuses more on the John Turturro character, Fioravante, who was the more compelling figure.
Turturro is subtle here, but it works perfectly for the character. We see him become the shy ladies man, the confident ladies man, and then eventually something in between, as he develops a different relationship with three women while pursuing his new job as a prostitute. There’s Sharon Stone, the older wife who can’t stand her husband anymore. You can imagine what her performance was like. Then there’s Sofia Vergara, the feisty younger friend of Stone. You can imagine what her performance was like. Despite the tropes, Stone and Vergara are very good, and have great chemistry with Turturro. Turturro also has a good camaraderie with Allen, who’s a lot better in the second half because we only get him in spurts. The biggest relationship in the film though is between Fioravante and Avigal, a widow living in the Hasidic Jewish neighborhood.
Vanessa Paradis plays Avigal, and it’s a very good performance, especially because of how sympathetic she is. This relationship is the heart of the film, which is the movie’s biggest strength, and weakness. Their attraction and interactions are very subtle, but it still draws you into the idea that these two very different people could still have a relationship. Even though I like subtlety, their dynamic can get very boring at times. Their conversations are just lifeless, not at all compelling. The conversations throughout the film are very much like this in general. It wants you to think they are having these important discussions, but they are pretty bland. It’s sort of like last year’s The Counselor, but to a much lesser degree, as at least in this film the conversations end.
While the middle part of the movie is solid, the third act is an absolute mess. There’s all of a sudden this weird trial, the main storyline abruptly ends, and I just found myself wondering what the point was to all this? Fioravante is the true protagonist of the story, but I didn’t get any kind of change or revelation about the character at all. It’s completely unsatisfying.
While there’s a lot to complain about, especially with the barrage of Jewish stereotypes, I give the movie credit for keeping me engaged with the characters. Woody Allen and John Turturro do have a pretty good chemistry. Liev Schreiber also has a nice little role as a low key down to earth Hasidic neighborhood watchman. Despite the performances though, this movie definitely lacked something, and what it lacked was a point.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (‘Meh’)