J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fading Gigolo: John Turturro, Ladies Man

You cannot get by in New York with part-time floral arrangement work. Yet, as a vocation, it probably means poor struggling Fioravante is a sensitive soul, who is good with his hands. His cash-strapped former boss hatches an unlikely scheme to capitalize on those talents in John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Murray Schwartz’s antiquarian bookstore had been in his family for years, but it did not survive the neurotic Upper Eastsider’s mismanagement. Fortunately, Schwartz’s wife still has a job, but his longtime clerk Fioravante is scuffling to make ends meets. A trip to his dermatologist gives Schwartz an idea so crazy, it just might work. Evidently, the cougarish Dr. Parker and her BFF Selima are looking for a man’s services. Frankly, they would prefer someone who is mature and less intimidating than the stereotypical boy toy type. Reluctantly (and rather skeptically), Fioravante agrees to let Schwartz pimp him out to his high class clientele.

Naturally, Fioravante is a hit with the well heeled ladies, because what woman wouldn’t lust after John Turturro? However, things will get complicated when Schwartz seeks the delousing services of a widow in the Brooklyn Hasidic community. Picking up on Avigal’s loneliness as she picks through his step-child’s hair, Schwartz convinces her to try Fioravante’s services. While their meeting is downright chaste by his recent standards, it would still be considered scandalous within her community. Further complicating matters, Fioravante and his new client start developing confusing feelings for each other. Her out-of-character trips to Manhattan also attract the suspicions of Dovi, the Orthodox neighborhood patrolman, who has long carried a torch for her.

Frankly, Fading is the sort of Woody Allen movie Allen ought to be making, but isn’t. It is a wistfully mature film, deeply steeped in an elegant sadness. The notion of writer-director Turturro casting himself as the illicit lover of Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara might seem self-serving, but the aging average Joe-ness of Fioravante is part of the point. It is his comfort with intimacy that makes Fioravante desirable. If anything, Fading is old school Alan Alda sensitivity porn rather than a vehicle for people doing it like rabbits.

Turturro shows a remarkable deft touch as a director, patiently letting his scenes unfold. He gets a key assist from the jazz soundtrack, which includes several seductions from boss tenor Gene Ammons. Jug had a seductive sound that could get anyone to say “yes,” but it also perfectly suits the sophisticated New York milieu.

Allen does his shtick as Schwartz, but it is funny more often than not. Yet, it is Turturro who quietly commands the screen as Fioravante, a sad clown incapable of acting less than chivalrous. He develops some achingly powerful chemistry with Vanessa Paradis in her first English language role as Avigal. Their scenes together are a reminder how dramatically potent denial and yearning can be on-screen.

Likewise, Liev Schreiber could not possibly be any more earnest as the lovesick Dovi. Stone and Vergara certainly look the parts of Fioravante’s clients, but never come close to exposing the inner depths of their souls. In a small supporting role, Bob Balaban nearly steals the show as Schwartz’s lawyer, Sol. In fact, Fading is well stocked with brief but neatly turned performances, including Loan Chabanol as a French expat who makes a strong impression late in the game.

Absolutely never smarmy, Fading is an emotionally intelligent film intended for an adult audience. It should satisfy all of Woody Allen’s fans, but Turturro gives it his own distinctive stamp. Highly recommended, Fading Gigolo opens this Friday (4/18) in New York at the Angelika Film Center and the UES’s City Cinemas 1, 2, 3.

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