Turturro, Allen bring laughs, warmth to ‘Fading Gigolo’

By Cate Marquis, Special to the Jewish Light

When audiences see Woody Allen’s name in movie credits, they tend to assume one or two things: He’s the star and/or the writer-director. Neither is the case with “Fading Gigolo,” a funny, sly, even romantic film in which Allen plays second banana to co-star and writer-director John Turturro. 

In “Fading Gigolo,” Allen and Turturro play two friends, Murray and Fioravante, who hatch a plan to make money selling the services of one of them as a “man of the evening.” That man is Turturro’s Fioravante, a gentle, quiet florist who has always done well with the ladies despite his lack of classic good looks. Allen’s Murray is the “pimp” who actually hatches the plan, which he sells to a reluctant Fioravante.

The comedy also features Sharon Stone as Murray’s sex-starved dermatologist, Dr. Parker, and Sofia Vergara as the doctor’s wealthy, sex-manic friend Selima. Vanessa Paradis plays another, unusual client, Avigal, the lonely widow of a respected Hasidic rabbi. And Liev Schreiber plays a Hasidic neighborhood policeman, Dovi, who is secretly in love with Avigal. Bob Balaban appears as Murray’s lawyer Sol. 

Murray’s and Fioravante’s plan turns out to have real comic potential, especially in the cultural and ethnic stew of Brooklyn. Turturro manages for his film to be genuinely funny without broad slapstick or farce humor. Instead, the story takes unexpected turns. It delves more into real human emotions, comments on cultural contrasts and is surprisingly warm, romantic and sweet. 

The acting is excellent throughout, with each character showing depth and expressing true human feelings. While Allen carries a lot of the humor load, Schreiber gets a rare chance to flex his comedic muscles as the suspicious Dovi. 

Some of the funniest scenes are between Allen and Turturro, particularly when Murray is first trying to sell the idea to a skeptical Fioravante. Although the key to Fioravante’s success is romance, Murray keeps trying to pitch him as a working class stud, telling potential clients he is a plumber. 

Fioravante plays along mainly because he wants to help a friend. The scenes between the two of them have a touch of buddy movie to them, as they talk themselves into one silly idea after another.

“Fading Gigolo” features snappy, clever dialogue, often delivered by Allen in his usual fast-talking, jumpy style. But instead of coming across as neurotic, Murray is more of a schemer who is always working an angle. You can practically see the wheels turning in his head as he fast-talks his way out of things. 

While funny, “Fading Gigolo” is also a thoughtful film that succeeds because of its wonderfully complex characters. No explosions or chase scenes in this picture; just wry or warm observations on love and the challenges of being human.