Actor turned writer-director John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo (2013) offers up an outlandish concept, and despite some notable pitfalls, manages to navigate the territory with a wry charm and warmth. All of which is bolstered by the director’s use of common sense in casting Woody Allen to bring a dry wit to the proceedings. In many ways Turturro’s casting Allen as Murray, a former bookseller who is down on his luck, was the wisest choice he could have made. Throughout there is a notable atmosphere of a lesser-Allen film, trying to shake off the cynicism, immersing in a nostalgic love of New York. For the most part the story takes place away from the high-rises of steel and glass.
We’re placed in a small Jewish neighbourhood tucked amongst the warming glow of the brownstones. With his bookshop sunk well into the red, Murray is looking for a new business opportunity and, quite by accident, comes upon the idea of pimping his pal Fioravante (Turturro). Both in their more senior years, this idea comes preloaded with gags about old age, not to mention touching upon the heretical concept – so often avoided in cinema – that older people like having sex too; it’s just that the opportunities are decidedly slimmer. Whilst dryly humorous and happy to navigate – sometimes successfully, sometimes not – Jewish clichés, Fading Gigolo’s real charm lies in its warmth. Fioravante’s first job comes in the form of a neglected wife and dermatologist, Dr. Parker (former siren Sharon Stone).
Their encounter is suitably awkward at first, slowly moving towards intimacy and all the while tinged with a sense of longing and loneliness. Meanwhile, Murray (Allen loaded with neuroses as per usual) is out courting the affections of an introverted Jewish widow, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis). This affords the arrival of a less successful subplot involving Jewish community cop Dovi (Liev Schreiber), who’s hot on Allen’s pimping ways and even calls a Jewish council as part of his investigation. This aspect is mishandled, but does allow for some interesting territory to be explored, namely the rigidity of religious laws versus the need for physical affection, contact and above all love. Of course, certain scenes – such as Turturro writing himself into a threesome with Sharon Stone and Sofía Vergara’s smouldering Selima – feels like a step too far. Fortunately, love wins out over Fading Gigolo’s seemingly smutty premise. Bolstered by an excellent jazz score, the combination of Turturro and Allen may not be perfect, but it’s certainly a sincere one.