Fading Gigolo 7.0
eyelights: Woody Allen. John Turturo. Sharon Stone.
eyesores: the weak plot development. the oft-trite dialogues. Sonia Vergara’s performance.
“This could definitely be the beginning of a very beautiful relationship between the three of us.”
‘Fading Gigolo’ is the story of Fioravante, a middle-aged flower shop owner who is coaxed by his friend, and former employer, Murray, into becoming a gigolo for wealthy women. Initially hired only for one gig, by Murray’s sexy dermatologist, the pair soon realize that they’ve stumbled upon an untapped market and can make good money – as a team, gigolo and pimp.
This 2013 comedy by John Turturro (who wrote, directed and stars in it) was well received everywhere that I stumbled across it. Combined with Woody Allen’s participation as Murray, there was no way that I was going to miss it. I’m no great fan of Turturro, but I’ll see almost anything that Allen is involved in, even if I know that the films he’s hired to do aren’t usually stellar.
It turns out that ‘Fading Gigolo’ was pretty good. Not great, but certainly entertaining.
Being a character-driven piece, its success rests almost entirely on the performances and on the chemistry between the actors. Thankfully, Turturro and Allen have an excellent dynamic, a seemingly effortless one that translates the characters familiarity exceptionally well. Turturro is the straight man, of course, allowing Allen to take centre stage with a few amusing lines.
Woody Allen was good, naturally, but he played a similar part in ‘The Front‘: that of an opportunist who makes money on his friends’ back. He wasn’t stretching, but then he hasn’t since ‘Deconstructing Harry‘ and that didn’t play well. I was disappointed to see that he’s slowed down considerably, even in his line delivery; age is actually catching up to him. I never thought it would happen.
Turturro delivers a fine performance. I rarely like him because I always see him playing gratingly dorky characters (‘The Big Lebowski‘ being a notable exception) . He was more nuanced than usual, which I savoured, although he frequently affects a sort stunned or blank expression which could be limiting. All in all, though, it was a genuinely nice surprise.
The one thing that stuck in craw was that Turturo’s Fioravante isn’t convincingly sexy. The whole premise is that he’s not that attractive but he has a certain quality that makes so good that his clients were immediate converts. True, some people are like that. But convince me. The problem is that he doesn’t even move smoothly or sexy, so how could he possibly be a great lover?
Sharon Stone, however, has still got it. As the duo’s first client, she gets to steam up the screen a little bit and she is surprisingly foxy for a 55 year old – she even dared to do full nudity. Sofía Vergara, however, was a cartoon (think Jessica Rabbit). And I don’t find her sexy at all: glamour does not equal beauty or sexiness in my book. Doesn’t matter: she gets only a little bit of screen time.
Vanessa Paradis, however, gets a lot more time as Avigal, a third client and one that Fioravante falls for. Given that she started her career as a pop singer, she is actually pretty good, if slightly subdued (which may be a characteristic of the role, not the actress). But I was stunned to see that, at 41, she looked ten years older, worn. Has she lead such a hard life?
Liev Schreiber also has a small part as Dovi, Avigal’s wannabe suitor, a neighbourhood patrolman who begins to follow Murray and Fioravante around in an attempt to reveal their secret. This obviously leads to conflict in the third act. I’ve never enjoyed Schreiber, except in the ‘Scream’ series – and that’s just because his stiffness played into the character’s awkwardness. Not so here.
But if I have any real issue with ‘Fading Gigolo’, it was with the storytelling, which I felt could have been sharper.
For starters, it takes shortcuts with its characters. Right from the onset, it doesn’t even take the time to introduce us to the two leads: the picture brusquely jumps right in with no forewarning, setup, or anything. To compensate for this, we were force-fed exposition: “How long have we known each other?”, Murray asks Fioravante. Friends have a short-hand – they don’t talk like this.
The same thing happened much later in the picture, as Dovi reminds Avigal that he’s been around for years, as though she didn’t know. Seriously, I wish that screenwriters and playwrights would come up with a better way to introduce back history and/or exposition than to stumble their way through such awkward dialogues. I’m sure there’s a more subtle way of doing this.
But the script was generally pedestrian. The dialogues, for instance, were filled with one-liners that I’d heard all too many times before. Although I did laugh a few times, many of the lines weren’t really funny because they weren’t fresh. Only Woody Allen could get away with spewing out the lesser material and, even then, he only barely got away with it given that he’s not at the height of his powers.
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
The plot development also had its issues. Unsurprisingly, Fioravante and Avigal develop a romance along the way. It was to be expected. But, out of nowhere, Avigal suddenly turns him down to leave with Dovi. No one saw that coming – not even the characters. It felt very random, contrived. Here we were being led into a blooming love affair between the two, and BANG. It’s over. Um… what?
*MAJOR spoiler alert*
In the end, the feeling that I was left with after seeing ‘Fading Gigolo’ is that it a vanity project of sorts, with Turturro having written the part of a Don Juan for himself. There’s no other way that he would ever play the part of a seducer, so he wrote it. And directed it. It’s his baby. And he’s the guy that women inexplicably fall for, because he has that enigmatic something.
Having said this, it wasn’t overly exaggerated. And, for all my complaints about the script, ‘Fading Gigolo’ remains a decent enough effort. I have no comments about the overall direction: it plays relatively well, and it’s entertaining enough. But I’m surprised by the fawning reviews I’d read early on. This makes for good lazy Sunday afternoon viewing; it’s fun, but it’s forgettable.
Date of viewing: June 21, 2014