A Quickie, by David Bax
John Turturro’s fifth film as a director, Fading Gigolo, may have the self-serious patina of the standard middlebrow fare now showing at a Landmark theater near you, but underneath that familiar disguise, it has the premise of a high concept, lowbrow studio comedy. That exaggerated approach would be more than worth the suspension of disbelief in a film that used it to get at some sort of truth or message. Fading Gigolo appears to be attempting just that but what exactly it’s saying is hard to decipher.
Turturro, who also wrote the screenplay, stars as a single guy named Fioravante, who is roughly the age of a John Turturro and who makes ends meet by working a couple of part time jobs. One of those involves creating floral arrangements because of how sensitive and stuff he is. Another is at a bookstore owned by an old friend named Murray, played by Woody Allen. When Murray’s bookstore is forced to close, the old rascal gets an idea. He’ll turn pimp, selling Fioravante’s sexual services to all the wealthy female friends he somehow has.
The only thing more laughable than this idea is that it works. Implausibility aside, though, Turturro shows skill in the film’s construction. He keeps the scenes brief, swift and buoyant, using the gentle rapport of Fioravante and Murray as a pace car. The cinematography, by Marco Pontecorvo, helps matters by locating the action in the same timelessly autumnal New York of Allen’s own films.
Apart from the two leads of this buddy comedy, Turturro has trouble pinning the rest of his characters to any believable backdrop, especially the females. That flaw might owe to Gigolo’s troubling relationship with gender and sex on the whole. The film laughs at sex work as a concept yet indulges in unrealistic fantasies about it. For instance, Fioravante would likely be the only male prostitute in New York City with a strictly female client base, yet that model is a foregone conclusion here. More troubling is the way Fioravante’s motives and morality are never in question but the women who enlist his services are, at best, pitied. When one of those women is played by Sharon Stone, who looks strong, fierce, gorgeous and self-assured even when all she’s doing is eating a bag of chips, you pity her at your peril. Eventually, of course, Fioravante falls for one of his clients, a Hasidic widow (Vanessa Paradis), but she only becomes an acceptable object of affection after she displays hesitance at the morality of the arrangement. Her introduction leads to a shift in theme toward the tumultuous bonds between sex and religion. Interesting as that could be, though, it comes too late to figure out if the film is refuting or upholding traditional mores.
Turtorro’s cast is excellent, consisting of all those listed above plus Sofía Vergara, Liev Schreiber, Michael Badalucco, Aida Turtorro and a brief but welcome appearance by Max Casella. But even all of their contributions can’t turn a terminally frivolous film like Fading Gigolo into anything more than a fleeting distraction, meant to be admired and then tossed out, just like one of Fiorvante’s flower arrangements.