Fading Gigolo, film review: John Turturro directs New York story in sweet and jazzy key

3.00

(15) John Turturro, 90 mins Starring: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sofia Vergara, Sharon Stone, Vanessa Paradis

A few years ago, John Turturro made a documentary about the musical culture of Naples. The songs it featured were often fiery, sometimes comical, and almost always about love, sex and money. One, called "Dove Sta Zaza", tells of a man searching for his vanished lover. It combined romance… and expediency. The lyric had the man calling to his lover, "Where are you, I need to find you – but if I can't have you, I'll have your sister instead."

The same mix of yearning and opportunism characterises Fading Gigolo, the enjoyable new film that Turturro has written, directed and stars in. The setting isn't Naples. It is the heart of New York City – and much of the action plays out in a Brooklyn Hasidic community. The characters, though, are driven by the same high and low passions as those described in the Neapolitan songs that Turturro so cherishes.

Given Woody Allen's recent travails in the media, it is intriguing to see him cast here as a bookseller who combines bibliophilia with pimping – and who, at one stage, is brought to trial to answer for his sleazy behaviour.

As the film begins, Murray (Allen) has fallen on hard times. "Only rare people buy rare books," he laments as he prepares to sell the family bookshop. He needs alternative revenue streams. His friend Fioravante (Turturro) is a part-time florist and plumber struggling to pay his rent and likewise in dire need of money. Murray knows a dermatologist, Dr Parker (Sharon Stone), looking for a man to take part in a ménage à trois with her and her gorgeous friend Selima (Sofia Vergara). Murray thinks Fioravante could be just the man they need.

Such a plot line suggests exploitation fodder at its most absurd. In fact, Fading Gigolo is a deceptively sweet-natured and gentle film that takes its mood from its own jazzy soundtrack. Allen is very funny, playing yet another variation on the permanently harassed, permanently wisecracking New Yorker he has portrayed so many times in his own films. Counting his money, trying ineptly to negotiate himself a better split with Fioravante, he is as hapless as Broadway Danny Rose. We hear him musing on mortality, just as he does in his own films. He is even given the chance to indulge in the type of slapstick that characterised his early movies, such as Take the Money and Run and Sleeper. (At one stage, we see him flinging his groceries away as he tries to flee the Hasidic priests who want him to answer for his actions.)

Turturro has written, directed and starred in the film (Jojo Whilden) Turturro has written, directed and starred in the film (Jojo Whilden)
Turturro's trick is to take stereotypical characters and to portray them in an offbeat and surprising way. For example, Stone's Dr Parker shapes up early on like an older version of the femme fatale she played in Basic Instinct: a sexually voracious career woman who intimidates Turturro's would-be gigolo. (There is even a Paul Verhoeven-style shot of him seen through her legs.) In fact, Dr Parker is as nervous as he is and the scenes between them have a comic undertow.

Sharon Stone: 'I used my intelligence to be sexy'

The film continually defies our expectations. Now well into his 50s, Turturro is self-evidently not obvious, Richard Gere-like gigolo-material. After all, this is the actor who played Barton Fink. "I am not a handsome man," his character protests when Murray first suggests making him a "ho". The closest to a gigolo in his earlier filmography is his narcissistic, over-dressed bowler in the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski – but he was hamming it up there. In Fading Gigolo, he is in a far more subtle groove.

One way he justifies selling his body is that he is bringing "magic to the lonely". There is a surprising tenderness to his scenes with Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), the lonely Hasidic Jewish widow first seen trying to remove the lice from the heads of some African-American kids. She is not supposed to bare her hair or even to read books.

Sharon Stone's Dr Parker shapes up early on like an older version of the femme fatale she played in Basic Instinct Sharon Stone's Dr Parker shapes up early on like an older version of the femme fatale she played in Basic Instinct (Jojo Whilden)
The Hasidic community – in particular the jealous neighbourhood police officer Dovi (Liev Schreiber) – follow her every move. Fioravante treats her with a hesitant kindness and soon becomes besotted by her. Paradis, who underplays beautifully, still has that detached, mysterious quality she showed all those years ago as a teenage actor in Jean-Claude Brisseau's Noce Blanche (1989).

 

Fading Gigolo is aimed at an older audience – the "grey pound" cinemagoers who flocked to The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and Quartet. It has a rude energy that such films lack. It deals frankly, albeit humorously, with its characters' sex lives and is honest about their venality.

One challenge Turturro can never quite overcome is the absurdity of the premise. It is hard to accept the idea of the elderly owner of the antiquarian bookshop becoming a pimp or the chic and glamorous Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara having to pay a plumber for sexual services. The screenplay lapses occasionally into crudity. Murray has to choose his own porn name and sure enough opts for the Boogie Nights-style "Bongo". Wild improbabilities that wouldn't matter much in a Naples folk song about forbidden love seem very jarring in a Brooklyn-set feature film.

Dr Parker (Sharon Stone) is looking for a man to take part in a ménage à trois with her and her gorgeous friend Selima (Sofia Vergara) Dr Parker (Sharon Stone) is looking for a man to take part in a ménage à trois with her and her gorgeous friend Selima (Sofia Vergara) (Rex Features)
Certain elements in Turturro's screenplay are simply baffling. Murray's domestic life is never properly explained. We are not told whether he is married to the African-American woman (Jill Scott) with whom he shares a small apartment. Nor is his relationship to her children clear – is he their dad, their step-dad or simply a family friend? Turturro doesn't elucidate. If Fioravante really is the charmer that Murray believes he is, why does he need his friend to arrange dates and do his talking for him?

Fading Gigolo is best enjoyed if you don't pay too much attention to its story's construction. Taken as a whimsical but fiery romantic comedy, it has easily enough charm to get away with its own idiosyncrasies.

Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Jess Glynne is UK number 1

music

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor