Judge Michael Nazarewycz is a dwindling pimp.
The oldest profession just got older.
When you see a cast list like the one Fading Gigolo has, it's hard to ignore. It's not expansive and gaudy like Love Actually, but it is nicely balanced in terms of career experience and skill sets. And the fact it is written and directed by its star, John Turturro (O Brother, Where Art Thou?), instills some confidence that the effort will be a little more artistic, a little more intimate. In the dead of summer where booms rule the box office, artistic and intimate is a nice home video respite.
Facts of the Case
Murray (Woody Allen, Annie Hall) is a rare book dealer forced to shutter his store due to a waning interest in such things. While packing up, Murray mentions to his dear friend, Fiorvante (Turturro), that his (female) dermatologist (Sharon Stone, Casino) wondered if Murray knew a guy who might be interested in participating in a ménage à trois with her and her girlfriend (Sofia Vergara, TV's Modern Family). Murray volunteered Fiorvante for the job at a price of $1000. Fiorvante, a struggling florist, is reluctant, but can use the extra cash. Murray, now unemployed, will act as Fiorvante's manager and take 40%, thus creating a new revenue stream for himself.
Word gets around about Fiorvante's bedroom skills and more business comes rolling in from rich ladies looking for a little unattached fun. But when Murray connects Fiorvante with a Hasidic widow, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis, The Girl on the Bridge)—strictly for massage therapy—Fiorvante's enthusiasm for being a gigolo diminishes as his affection for Avigail increases. Complicating matters is an old—and jealous—friend of Avigail's, Dovi (Liev Schreiber, RKO 281), who uses his authority in the Hasidic community to make life hard for Fiorvante.
Sure, Fading Gigolo (Blu-ray) is an artistic and intimate home video respite. And yet…
Writer Turturro trips and falls immediately out of the gate with his set-up. It's good that the set-up comes quickly, so as to allow time for the subsequent events to unfold, but the suspension of disbelief it requires is simply too much to bear. Even if you are willing to look past the Midlife Crisis Edition of "Letters to Penthouse," the part of the story that has stellar beauties Stone and Vergara interested in a three-way (and that's not an easy thing to look past), it's impossible to believe that Stone's 55-year-old doctor character would, during a routine office visit from her 78-year-old patient, talk to him about her ribald desires and then ASK HIM IF HE KNOWS A GUY. It is the film's biggest head-scratcher, and when it's your hook, it haunts your film.
Once the story progresses, more stumbles occur. Allen's character is somehow involved in the life of a younger black woman (Tonya Pinkins, Enchanted) and her kids (they refer to him as "Uncle"). There isn't anything wrong with this relationship; the problem lies in the fact that it serves no purpose and is never developed. It seems written strictly for laughs at a base culture-clash level: look at the old Jewish man living with the large African American family. That's not an indie film, that's a sitcom. And it isn't funny.
As for the gigolo himself, the film's first half has Fiorvante with something of a wishy-washy inner-conflict. It's obvious he has a moral compass because he's never quite sure he should be a gigolo, yet he never seems to overcome the "Should I stop doing this?" question, mostly because he never stops doing it. And it's not like he's reveling in the riches; he just goes about it.
It's unfortunate, because there is some depth to Stone's character (who is married) that the film starts to explore, something that Fiorvante (single) might actually connect with, but it never happens. As for Vergara's character, she is as stunning as her photographs make her out to be, yet equally as two-dimensional. She is today's hot actress eye-candy (albeit eye-candy with a very nice dance number with Turturro) who titillates with thoughts of a three-way with hot actress eye-candy from the 1990s.
At the film's halfway point, things get more interesting. While the core premise of Fiorvante being a gigolo still looms, this added facet of his delicate, blossoming relationship with Avigal is nicely introduced. There's even a touching scene involving a pickup baseball game between Avigal's and Murray's (adopted?) kids. Sadly, it's all run through the mud with a played-straight-for-laughs plotline involving Dovi's jealousy, his position of authority, and the strictness of the Orthodox community. At one point, Dovi and a few of his men (for lack of better term) literally swoop in and bring Fiorvante in for questioning pertaining to what he's been doing with the young widow. It's not silly enough to be funny yet not deep enough to be taken seriously.
Even the end of the film fails to commit to the direction it appears to be going in.
The 1.85:1 1080p video presentation on the Fading Gigolo (Blu-ray) is beautiful. There are numerous shots of Fiorvante preparing gorgeous floral arrangements throughout the film, and every color is vivid and every line is sharp. The same can be said for other scenes with heavy detail, particularly Murray's bookstore and the streets of Brooklyn. The only negative is that the clarity of the image really exposes Marco Pontecorvo's overuse of warm gold tones in so many shots. The excessive use of the hue becomes distracting. On the audio side, the TrueHD 5.1 sound has little conflict to manage, although there are times some of the music used to transition from scene to scene drowns out other noises.
In addition to commentary from Turturro and his longtime assistant Cameron Bossert, the Fading Gigolo (Blu-ray) contains six deleted scenes running a total of about 11-12 minutes. The highlight of the bunch is a great scene with Stone and Turturro laying naked after sex, where Stone waxes about how being naked—bare, really—is life's great equalizer. This should have been left in the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Some parts of this film are so good, they manage to shine through the mess. Stone and Paradis are both wonderful as such contrasting individuals—Stone's rich but sexually frustrated professional and Paradis' humble, almost sequestered Orthodox widow. I can't think of a conceivable (believable) scenario that would put them together, but that would have been great to watch. Also great is the chemistry between Turturro and Allen. Despite the 20-year age difference between them, they carry on like old and dear friends.
Fading Gigolo is a victim of its own indecisiveness. It wants to be a high-brow but slightly bawdy romp through the adventures of a reluctant stud, but it also wants to be a character study about midlife crises of various types. In its pursuit of both, it never quite achieves either, as each side of this tale gets in the way of the other. Still, there is enough here to enjoy—the performances from Stone and Paradis; the chemistry between Turturro and Allen; okay, that eye candy; and a fun, jazzy soundtrack—to make the Fading Gigolo (Blu-ray) worth checking out as a rental.
Not guilty, but oy.
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