Humans are curious things, as our emotions are always getting the best of us. We know what we want in our head, but we often consult our heart and think that we need other things too. At the end of the day, everybody wants love and affection and a lack of those can lead to a life full of sorrow. As humans, we also judge and our judged often, meaning we are more guarded about how we feel and what we wish that we could express. We’re all in the same boat, so why do we pretend like we’re all so different and that natural wants and needs are so bizarre?
Fioravante (John Turturro) is a master-class florist and a simple man living in Brooklyn. He has no family and his closest friend is Murray (Woody Allen), a bookkeeper whose store is looking to be shut down after many years of operation. Both men are looking down on their luck, until Murray presents an interesting opportunity to Fioravante that may change their luck and bring them in some extra cash as well. Murray knows a woman who expressed some interest in a ménage à trois and he tells her that he knows the right man for the job. He enlists Fioravante’s help in the business of pleasure and before you know it, the two become a team that bring life into the lives of many women.
Among his clientele, Fioravante gains the attention of Murray’s doctor, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone). Dr. Parker becomes infatuated with him and recommends him to her friend, Selima (Sofia Vergara), before they all meet up together. Though he meets with many different women, the Hasidic Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) grabs Fiorvante’s attention and his affection for her grows, as he coaxes her out of her grievance for her late husband. Though the money is plentiful, love and affection had been missing and the hole that Avigal fills is bringing life back to Fioravante. Meanwhile, Murray has to deal with the responsibilities of being a pimp (essentially) and even gets in deep with the Hasidic patrol in New York. It’s all a mess, but there’s still feeling and understanding behind the dirty work.
Fading Gigolo has all the possibility of becoming a very raunchy time, but it finds itself following a more sensual and emotional path instead. The word Gigolo is either going to entice you, or repulse you (especially after those dreadful Rob Schneider films), but I was genuinely surprised by what I witnessed. The writing is a lot more tender than I thought it was going to be and while the story does wander into odd places, I found myself enjoying the film a great deal and especially the work done by the lead actors/actresses.
John Turturro is a jack of all trades, as he wrote and directed this film, as well as starred as the lead role. Turturro’s Fioravante is a gentle man with the best intentions and his “professional” work is more than what you’d think. He’s just as nervous as his clients and he wants to make sure that he treats them with care and respect. Woody Allen, who certainly had some influence on Turturro’s writing, is the same Woody we all know and his wandering thoughts on life, death, and Jewish lifestyles is absolutely hilarious. He’s such an odd little man, but he has this charm to him that works on many levels. He’s too old to do the work, so his role as the “pimp” makes things even funnier. The two make such an odd team, but it works on every level and their witty banter had me close to tears.
Vanessa Paradis really makes an impact in this film as the widowed, Hasidic woman. Her love for her family and customs comes first, but the sadness and loneliness is apparent in her misty eyes and longing stares. She wants to uphold her customs, but she’s just as human as the next person and has her wants and needs. She demonstrates her characters inner-struggles beautifully when she’s around Turturro and she steals every scene that she’s in. As for the other women in the film, Sharon Stone also does a great job because of her inexperience and emotional fragility. She’s finding herself sexually repressed and in need of someone new because her husband couldn’t be any more distant from her. Her character isn’t intentionally funny, but it’s quite amusing to watch her react to certain scenarios. Sofia Vergara is the veteran lover of the film and her sexual drive is through the rough, somewhat intimidating Turturro’s character. She’s certainly an interesting character and while she’s not entirely emotional, she still has an understanding of the situation and for other people.
Personally, I think that the amount of restraint that Turturro shows is incredibly beneficial for the film. It’s not so much a tease, as it is a reflection of the restraint we all show in certain settings. His character isn’t sexually aggressive, so we don’t get gratuitous scenes in the film. The whole “sex for money” thing is touched on and while it may technically be prostitution, it comes off as two consenting adults having sex, one who needs a reminder of what it’s like to love and one who is willing to go the extra mile to show love and affection for the other. The film touches on the aspect of loneliness in many different forms and it’s the more touching and emotional sequences that I enjoyed the most. Turturro’s time with Paradis is wonderful to watch and provides a great counter balance to all the sexual humor.
The biggest detractor in this film is its subplot that follows Liev Schreiber’s Hasidic patrol group and their interactions with Allen. Absurd doesn’t even come close to describing this part of the film, because it comes from out of nowhere. I guess the ties to Paradis and Schreiber’s affinity for her make an ounce of sense, but everything else is just weird! Of course they go after Allen and his clashing views create quite the conundrum, but it all just feels very unnecessary. It’s certainly a part of its own little world and story, probably stemming from all the time Turturro spent with Allen. All the time spent on it is time spent away from Turturro and Paradis and that upsets me, because there was a genuinely sweet story going on with the two of them.
Fading Gigolo is certainly one of the most surprising films of the year, as you go in with some expectations and they’re immediately thrown out the window. Tenderness wrapped in comedy works extremely well for this film, until it disappears and is replaced by an unneeded subplot. Still, the performances are all solid and the writing/directing form Turturro is very impressive. If you’re looking for a semi-commentary on the human condition, you’d be surprised by how much Fading Gigolo has to say and how it says it. Don’t let the title turn you off to this film, as it’s one I’d recommend to anyone looking for something a bit different.
Fading Gigolo Trailer