By Nathan Lerner
In Fading Gigolo, Murray Schwartz (Woody Allen) is the proprietor of a struggling bookstore in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. What chance does poor Murray have to compete with the marketing prowess of amazon.com? It looks like his business is about to fold.
His buddy, Fioravante (John Turturro, who also wrote the screenplay and directed) is an introverted florist. Murray recruits Fioravante in a scheme to save the bookstore. At Murray’s last appointment with his dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), she confided that she and her lover, Selima (Sofia Vergara) are seeking a male for a ménage a trois. This well-heeled physician is willing to pay $2,000 for an encounter. Is this the sort of fantasy that a doctor would off-handedly discuss with one of her patients? This is a portent of the mounting heap of implausibilites that confront the viewer.
At least the film rejects the suggestion that the bisexual couple would try to entice septuagenarian Murray into performing the role. However, the screenplay’s alternative is only marginally less absurd. The bookseller persuades a reluctant Fioravante to provide gigolo service and allow Murray will act as his pimp.
As envisioned in Turturro’s screenplay, his character is the ultimate answer to all the sexual fantasies that any woman might harbor. I fully appreciate that visual aesthetics aren’t the only or even most important element in attractiveness. However, in addition to being decidedly lacking in terms of looks, Fioravante is a gawky, socially maladroit mouthbreather. In what universe do bombshells like Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara need to pay for sex? Moreover, for a few thousand dollars, couldn’t they hire a professional escort, who is not only handsome, but dashing and debonair to boot? It gets worse – the ladies are so impressed by their initial encounter with Fioravante, that they want to schedule some further trysts. What is it about this lothario that makes women swoon? The film is woefully deficient in providing any explanation.
Murray lives with a much younger African-American girlfriend (Jill Scott) and her brood of four hilarious young sons. In an uncredited role, Scott infuses the film with a dollop of much needed verisimilitude. The scenes of the family gathered around the dining table may remind some of an analogous vignette in Allen’s classic “Annie Hall”. The film makes no effort to provide a back story for how this post-modernist, blended family came into existence. Unfortunately, the film makes little use of the natural warmth that Scott and the child actors exude. Instead, they are relegated to plot devices, which are little more than modern minstrelry.
At some juncture, the boys contract head lice. The film has already established that Murray has a dermatologist. Were you really expecting that he would take them to his dermatologist in this counter-logical farce? No way-instead Murray visits a secular lice expert, Avidor (French pop singer/ actress, Vanessa Paradis). This Hasidic widow lives in the Hasidic enclave of Wiliamsburg. Upon arriving there, the sight of some white-haired codger with a bunch of young black children in tow, subjects the quintet to incredulous stares.
Avidor is still observing the traditional mourning period for her deceased husband. She is quite lonely and desperately misses human touch. However, she is constrained by the prevailing ethos of her Hasidic community. Dovi (Liv Schreiber) is the head of a local Town Watch-type organization, which strictly enforces religious rules and regulations. Dovi longs for Avidor, but she spurns his advances.
Of course, the opportunistic Murray decides to intervene and arrange for Avidor to receive a therapeutic massage from his buddy, Fiorvante. Of course, this leads to an inevitable clash of cultural values, with Murray and Fiorvante facing off against a jealous Dovi and his cadre of religious zealots.
The serious subject of fanaticism and intolerance is poorly integrated into this frothy farce. “Fading Gigolo” suffers from a tortured premise. This is further subverted by a pivotal miscasting decision of Turturro as the eponymous protagonist. It is vanity run amok.
** R (for sex, nudity, profanity) 90 minutes
Nathan Lerner welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.