It would be easy to mistake “Fading Gigolo” for a Woody Allen film. First there’s the obvious stuff—it’s set in New York, has a jazz score, younger women flirt with older men and, of course, Woody is in the center of it all cracking wise.
But it’s not a Woody Allen film. It was written and directed by John Turturro, who is a formidably talented actor but as a director, suffers in comparison to his co-star and obvious inspiration.
Allen is Murray Schwartz, a New York bookseller—he sells “rare books for rare people”—is forced to close his store and let his single employee Fioravante (Turturro) go. Fioravante is a soulful jack-of-all trades, but master of none until he embarks in a new gig that suits him to a tee—gigolo. Murray becomes an unlikely pimp, setting Fioravante up with older, bored rich women (Sharon Stone and Sofía Vergara) who become smitten with his puppy dog eyes and sweltering sensuality. Trouble is, although his bank account is full, Fioravante finds the job personally unfulfilling. That changes when he falls for Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), the demure widow of a rabbi.
“Fading Gigolo” attempts to find the balance of humour, pathos and romance that seems to come so easily to Allen, but is more “The Curse of the Jade Scorpion” than “Annie Hall.” From the sexual shenanigans of the gigolo scenes to the more repressed romance of the Avigal storyline, the muddled story fails to generate any real heat. Add to that a subplot involving Liev Schreiber as a neighborhood ranger with feelings for the widow who reports Murray for breaking Jewish law and you have enough stories for two movies crammed into one.
Performance wise, Turturro is so stoic it’s as if he’s planning the next shot in his head while also trying to act in the film, but Stone, Vergara, Paradis and Schreiber each have a moment to shine. Stone, playing a doctor with a philandering husband, becomes more than a stereotype as she quietly cries, from trepidation and nervousness the first time Fioravante stops by to ply his trade. It’s a revealing moment in a movie that could have used a few more of them.
Since this is a de facto Woody Allen movie it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Allen walks away with the whole thing. There is a thrill that goes along when he describes Fioravante as “disgusting, but in a very positive way.” It’s a Woody-ism that provides a whiff of nostalgia that makes the audience long for the good Woody Allen movies, not imitations like this one.