In “Fading Gigolo”—an entertaining and bizarre yet slight picture-- Woody Allen plays a pimp to John Turturro’s Gigolo. Wait! Did I really just write that? Woody Allen and pimp in the same sentence? It’s a fresh and brilliantly absurd bit of casting that’s easily the best part of the movie, especially if you’re familiar with Allen’s history of acting on the big screen.
The now seventy-eight-year-old writer-director has made a name for himself over the years playing the same neurotic, insecure, fast talking fellow again and again, usually in his own movies. Pondering the mortality and the meaning of existence, bellyaching about little things people do, taking Zoloft and seeing an analyst twice a week. The “Woody” persona has practically become ingrained in the culture and is a personal favorite of mine. Ever since being introduced to him in movies like “Annie Hall” and “Hannah and her Sisters” I’ve come to love Allen’s unique presence on screen, almost as much as the movies themselves.
In “Gigolo,” Allen plays more or less the same character. He’s insecure, fast-talking, on Zoloft, seeing an analyst twice a week and pondering mortality and the meaning of existence. However, this time Allen—who plays the character Murray, a bookshop owner who has gone out of business—is more gutsier and proactive. He’s the one who suggests that his friend Fiorvante (Turturro, who also wrote and directed the move), become a Gigolo for some extra money.
You read that right. Usually you’d expect that the Allen character would have to be talked into such an odd endeavor. Not so. In this case, Murray is the confident one who tells Fiorvante that he’s attractive and is good at sex, while Fiorvante is the shy one reluctant to do it. The film is at its best when it focuses on Murray and Fiorvante’s friendship and their adventures in the business that mainly involve two lonely sex crazed women who want to have a threesome. There’s something endearing and wonderfully silly about it and Turturro and Allen play off one another near perfectly.
It’s when “Fading Gigolo” veers away from the friendship and turns into a love story that it runs into problems. One of Fiorvante’s clients is Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a strict Hasidic widow. They don’t have sex but he does massage her back, which apparently is a big no no in her religion. Never the less it provides her with some pleasure and mends the loneliness she’s been feeling for quite some time. One of the underlying themes of “Gigolo” seems to be that the gigolo service can provide therapy to lonely women.
After there first meeting the two develop a friendship and Fiorvante begins to get feelings for her. Unfortunately, since the movie is only ninety minutes, neither the relationship nor the theme I mentioned above can be effectively explored, and in the end looks inferior when compared to the wacky gigolo stuff involving Murray and Fiorvante. I also could have done without Liev Schreiber as Dovi, a neighborhood watch captain who lives in Avigal’s neighborhood and is also in love with her and becomes suspicious of what’s going on. Again the character and the side plot simply don’t effloresce into anything resonant.
And yet, I still enjoyed myself during “Fading Gigolo.” I enjoyed watching Allen (especially, Allen. I could watch a whole devoted to Murray) and Turturro together as they navigate the male prostitute business. The film also has a jazzy, energetic score by Abraham Laboriel and Bill Maxwell that keeps things moving along nicely, even if the overall movie is rather insignificant.