Fading Gigolo Directed by: John Turturro Cast: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Vanessa Paradis, Sofia Vergara Running Time: 1 hr 30 mins Rating: R Release Date: May 2, 2014 (Chicago)
PLOT: Fiorvate (Turturro) is pimped out by his friend Murray (Allen) when two women (Stone & Vergara) are interested in a threesome. Unexpectedly, Fiorvante falls for a reclusive widow (Paradis) who hasn't been touched by a man since her husband died.
WHO'S IT FOR? Those who like seeing star-struck writer/directors sell their project's souls to past influences.
An actor/writer/director once conceded that masturbation is "sex with someone I love." Then what room does that leave for acting/writing/directing in a film in which your master played by Woody Allen sings your praises, and Sofia Vergara and Sharon Stone hype you up to be a stallion? And most importantly, where's the comedy in that?
The masturbatory nature of Fading Gigolo begins with its casting, where Turturro seeks Stuart Smalley-level validation from those whose wilting on-screen presence can be construed to his own ideals. His choice of Stone and Vergara as a menage a trois pals harps on the actress' sex appeal, but also the lack of guff either of them have in their placement as people defined by sex. Vergara, especially, is yet another trophy mate for a schlubby writer/actor/director (taking on the same significance for Jon Favreau in his own upcoming Chef). The two are mouthpieces for Turturro's self-endorsement, with Vergara even encouraging the script's creepiness by saying "A woman is meant to be looked at, or else she just fades away." And before any type of equality between the two can be represented, Turturro gives Vergara a phallic reference, asserting she can only have power by being a man ("Sometimes I like to strap on my gun," she says, which only fulfills her recent role in Machete Kills, in which she did indeed have a gun penis). Even Paradis, a widowed introvert saved from a quiet life, speaks the praises of Turturro's magic touch, which ultimately allots Fiorvante an arc that shows his compass always points S for self-righteous.
Taking Woody Allen into one's own story continues to be a distraction, as the man is a constant force, a brand that can be put into a movie but barely morphed beyond his costuming (a cowboy hat in Picking Up the Pieces, a mullet and surfboard in Scenes from a Mall). As its main source of comedy, Allen's gabs barely hit a surprising mark, and his interracial relationship in the film is a useless political gesture to cover his pale-colored filmography. For a movie in which a lead actor is told by characters that he is great at sex, casting Allen is Turturro's most heavy-handed expression of all.
The character that Turturro edifies for himself is one of shameless writer/director perfection, carefully balanced to zero in on soft spots for both his own self esteem, and the desires of his audience who shall desire him on his own terms. Aside from the obvious role of playing magic man for both Stone and Vergara, Fiorvante is a former NYC ruffian who now makes elegant flowers in a shop full of women. Females will throw compliments to him as they do their lustful urges, claiming he is successfully not within the limp conventions of attraction. On top of that, Turturro equips himself non-sarcastically with a tedious ego, in which Fiorvante constantly quotes phrases in the Italian language as if they are pretentious exhales, utilized so that his listeners will have to ask for the definition. Why not explain the phrase initially, or just say the damn thing in the language everyone else is speaking?
For the distinct Allen connections that are prodded by Turturro's Midnight in Paris-era use of golden light, or his wide shot framing of gabbing pairs on the street, even in his strangest moments Allen's movies have a fine sentimentality to them amongst neat arcs and ironic conclusions. He never made a movie with such brutish man mitts like Fading Gigolo, which features vulnerable women and subsequently failed attempts to be sensitive to them. Whereas, Turturro's own narcissistic qualities are more concerned with manipulation, which seem to cloud the notion of when supposedly romantic moments are actually quite creepy.
The man hands of Fading Gigolo are given their center stage moment in a scarring scene that on paper probably features the words "catharsis" and "emotional," but has the comfort of an assault. Paradis' widow is lured over by Allen to receive a little healin' from Fiorvante, who is taking a short break from being lusted after by Stone and Vergara, or touching flowers. She lays face down on his eating table not to experience Fiorvante's specialty, but his magic back rubs. The framing for this moment is crucial to completing the uncomfortable image of its extreme lack of sensitivity, as the focus is on Paradis' face and rarely naked back, while Turturro is only personified by his hands. When Paradis begins to cry, Turturro's hands present her a tissue, which she takes. The entire gesture is cold, and completes the emotionally invasive inklings of the act, given that this woman was lured by a self-professed pimp to his gigolo's living space, who then takes her clothes off despite the personal space that defines her from her introduction. Worst of all, Turturro uses this moment as her social awakening, beginning an arc in which his character falls for a woman that he liberated.
Albeit intentionally, Turturro shows little visual tenderness in a separate plot strand that involves the Jewish community, patrolled by Liev Schreiber playing a gentle cop. With certain bouts of editing energy, and a camera that introduces Schreiber at a very low angle, the jazzy aesthetics of a charged community as seen in Spike Lee movies are given a slight variation here. In terms of storytelling tact, the brashness makes for the opposite of a compelling attitude. Turturro engineers obvious set-ups to achieve his not-profound points, with a third act that infuses the court scene of She Hate Me with a literal take on the everlasting debate by Woody Allen about religion, the big G, etc.
Aside from a Woody Allen movie bingo board, John Turturro's New York story Fading Gigolo seems to be most directly informed by Spike Lee and his astonishing disaster, She Hate Me. Like that film, in which Anthony Mackie plays a man with a magic touch (and penis) who is paid to impregnate hot lesbians, here Turturro exercises a similar agenda uncomfortably ridiculous masculinity, where awareness is not a factor. The distinct difference however is that Lee didn't flex in the film mirror to see anyone but his wacky damn self; his film is too singular, too giant-orange-hat-at-the-Knicks-game for anyone else's influence.
The defining clash of Fading Gigolo is not its half-baked debate on Judaism, nor is its center menage a trois between Turturro and his two movie dolls. Fading Gigolo is most of all the competition of influences within Turturro, of Allen and Lee's versions of New York that Turturro previously saw himself in front of the camera for (in numerous Lee films, and as a writer in Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters). Turturro's self-lovin' behind the camera and desire to repeat both NY aesthetic perspectives doesn't make for a unique product, but a reinforcement of Lee's seedier side. With hopes of seeing a Woody Allen script shot by Spike Lee in the mirror, Turturro only sees an awkwardly limp moment, where the largest lust is for self-validation.
FINAL SCORE: 3/10