“Fading Gigolo,” a movie as slight and tender as its leading character, leaves you feeling you’ve just seen one of the few Woody Allen movies Allen didn’t write or direct.
He’s second-billed, playing the same stammering, would-be-suave nebbish he first embodied onscreen almost 50 years ago. Yet the bittersweet sentiment in the movie comes from John Turturro, who did write and direct and plays the introspective title character.
Fioravante (Turturro) contentedly arranges flowers, until the rare book shop owned by his friend Murray (Allen) has to close. Murray’s dermatologist (Sharon Stone) has just asked Murray if he knows anyone who can service her sexually for cash – yeah, I didn’t believe that either – and he proposes that Fioravante service wealthy clients and split the take, with Murray acting as pimp.
The heavy-lidded Fioravante, who mostly turns a lamblike gaze on his clients and treats them with simple politeness, turns out to be a lion in bed. He’s passive about the setup, though happy with unlooked-for profits, until he meets a rabbi’s widow. Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) hasn’t been touched physically or emotionally in years, and she blossoms for him.
The film takes place not in Allen’s familiar Manhattan but in the less tony Brooklyn where Turturro grew up. The competitor for Avigal’s attention is Dovi, a Hasidic cop (Liev Schreiber) who has waited to be noticed for years; Murray lives with a black woman named Othella (Tonya Pinkins) whose kids call him “Papa Moe,” whatever that means. (Is he a stepdad? Their grandfather? A family friend?)
Turturro’s world teems with rich and poor people, Jews and Italian-Americans and African-Americans. (I wonder if he gave Allen a black family because Allen has so often been accused of creating lily-white worlds in his own movies.) There are no villains, unless you count the slightly clownish Hasidic “court” that hauls Murray in for betraying Jewish ideals.
I can’t explain why women in the film respond so strongly to the soft-spoken, noncommittal Fioravanti, a departure for Turturro from the fire-breathing roles he often plays. (And will soon play again, as Seti in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and Murder, Inc. gunman Frankie Carbo in “Hands of Stone.”)
I suppose it’s because he’s quietly amiable, doesn’t try too hard to impress anyone and gives a lot of relaxed pleasure – just like the movie itself.