Despite a truly terrible title, John Turturro’s “Fading Gigolo” is a surprisingly soulful and quiet comedy-drama written, directed by and starring the lanky character actor as an unlikely Romeo for hire. The plot is ludicrous. But the execution is occasionally delightful and always beautiful, set in Manhattan and Brooklyn and shot in gorgeous autumnal tones, suggestive of the “fading” quality of the films subjects.
A spiritual descendant of Woody Allen’s work, it also costars Allen himself, and Turturro honors the Allen tradition of casting himself as an unlikely romantic leading man. As lifelong pals, the two actors have a very appealing chemistry, so you want to keep watching, even when you realize the turn the plot is taking.
Allen’s character Murray was approached by his lonely, wealthy dermatologist (Sharon Stone) on the subject of having a threesome with a friend of hers, and wanted to know if he could recommend a man to help them out. That Allen recommends John Turturro is just something you have to accept to get into the movie. Let’s just assume he didn’t know anyone else to ask.
Both guys are down on their luck, and Turturro agrees. Rather than falling into slapstick, which the plot could certainly have deserved, we actually get convinced that the women might fall for Turturro’s character. He is a sensitive florist who arrives bearing unusual floral arrangements, and his demeanor with Stone is believably seductive. After the success of the first encounter, Allen decides to try to find some more clients for him.
An encounter with a beautiful widow takes the movie to a more serious level. Allen meets the young, lonely widow of a Rabbi when he is tasked with taking his girlfriend’s four kids to her to get checked for lice. If John Turturro can be a male prostitute, she can be a Hassid lice expert; there are a lot of weird jobs in this movie.
The idea of this Orthodox woman turning to a gigolo is as unlikely as everything else in the film and, like everything else in the film, Turturro somehow makes it believable. I credit him with the self-confidence it takes to see himself in this light and his skill as a writer, director and actor who actually manages to bring this concept home. He and Woody Allen play things partially for laughs but mostly for real and their calculations somehow pay off.
Several sweet and touching scenes play out between the widow, played tenderly by French singer and former Johnny Depp companion Vanessa Paradis, and Turturro. In her close knit, insular community, her activities stir things up and threaten Turturro’s business and their fledgling affair.
The ultimate success of this story is as unlikely as the success of its characters and their oddball “career” paths and in both cases, the success rests on the slim, weird shoulders of John Turturro. He has created an amusing, moving platform for the eccentric charms we never knew he had.
“Fading Gigolo” is currently available to rent.