Warm ‘Fading Gigolo’ Has Odd Romance, Woody Allen

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CHICAGO – How do you make a Woody Allen-style film? You hire Allen to act in it. Writer, director and lead actor John Turturro channels the soul of Allen’s films by creating a strange and romantic scenario with different types of relationships, including one with Allen himself in “Fading Gigolo.”

Turturro plays the title character named Fioravante, who hatches a plan with Allen’s character to become a gigolo. The unlikeliness of the situation lends to both the strengths and weaknesses of the movie, with a touch of winking at the camera. Turturro the writer and lead actor also (naturally) casts Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara as a couple of clients, but saves the oddest part of the story involving sect of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. Within all these loops is the pace and style of an Allen romantic comedy, all the way to having the master himself bless the proceedings. It’s a middle-age fantasy paired with an echo effect of “Annie Hall.”

Tough economic times forced the closure of a New York City bookstore run by Murray (Allen). One of his best customers and friend is Fioravante (Turturro), a part time florist who is also barely getting by. After considering some cash-making angles, the pair decide to provide gigolo services, with Murray acting as the representative for Fioravante.

Woody Allen, John Turturro
Murray (Woody Allen) and Fioravante (John Turturro) Hatch a Plan in ‘Fading Gigolo’
Photo credit: Millenium Entertainment

The business takes off, aided by a mysterious Dr. Parker (Stone), who provides other clients for Fioravante, including a potential three-way tryst with Selima (Vergara). But one client begins to stand out over another, a Hasidic Jewish woman named Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), who has lost her husband, yet is not ready to marry inside the sect again. She begins to use the gigolo as a buffer, which irritates her potential Hasidic suitor, Dovi (Liev Schreiber), and involves Murray with some potential complications.

One thing that has to be said, there won’t be many films in which you’ll find a similar atmosphere and plot. It’s an absurdist, surreal narrative, because of its similarities to the style and wit of a mid-career Allen picture paired with the offbeat story. It’s obvious that Turturro has done his cinema homework, and convinced Allen to play a role in what is essentially a tribute to his career. It’s acutely amusing to see Allen the actor navigate a gigolo plot that he most likely would have discarded.

But there is a sincerity in the film, and an earnest participation from the performers to present it authentically. The Hasidic Jewish subplot is fascinating, from the angle of what it imagines and what it implies. It becomes almost a flight of fancy, especially when it includes a patriarchal trial from the religious elders against the clearly bemused Allen (with his counsel portrayed by Bob Balaban). It “puts to trial” the subtext of the typical Allen film, regarding his neurotic character jousting against the established boundaries.

The “clients,” besides the character played by Paradis, don’t fare as well. Whether the director Turturro was trying to make a symbolic point or not, the casting of Stone and Vergara as women who would need a gigolo is the least likely situation to actually happen, except to give Tuturro the actor some pleasant company. This fantasy element of Fioravante as superstar stud begins to infiltrate the whole scheme, especially within the large income it starts to generate, and ultimately does the story no favors.

Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara
Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) and Selima (Sofia Vergara) Are Ready for Their Close-Ups in ‘Fading Gigolo’
Photo credit: Millenium Entertainment

But again the film does follow through on the absurdity, and what’s wrong with having something different happen as a plot unfolds? The best and most noble point about the film is its odd storyline, mixed with the tribute to Allen. The fact that it works for the most part and is able to recruit Allen as an actor creates a parallel universe that is both creatively jarring and – for a late career Allen who has lately been under fire – somewhat poignant.

As for the fact that John Turturro produced, directed, wrote and played the lead character, and no doubt cast the women he would be trysting with, who can blame him for choosing Stone and Vergara? In the real world, it points out the overwhelming truth of the grand illusion.

“Fading Gigolo” continued its limited release in Chicago on May 2nd. See local listings for theaters and show times. Featuring John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sonia Vergara, Vanessa Paradis and Liev Schreiber. Written and directed by John Turturro. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2014 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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