An unexpected charmer, "Fading Gigolo" meanders through an autumn in New York with the look and feel of a Woody Allen movie, but its thoughtful auteur, actor John Turturro, offers more pleasant surprises.
As writer-director, Turturro presents a slice-of-life character study well-suited for an adult audience, but the script, with such disparate elements, has a playful quality that would engage a younger audience, too.
Turturro, looking like a mellower Al Pacino, portrays Fioravante, an earnest, lonely guy who works in a florist shop. His pal, Murray Schwartz (Woody Allen), is closing his bookstore. Worried about an income, he hatches an absurd plot that turns into a lucrative business for them -- providing sexual services for female clients.
Turturro is a careful, thoughtful partner, and Allen is the "business manager" Bongo. He's happily married and has kids, who are a hoot. Although the plot sounds unseemly and indelicate, but they treat it maturely, and not tawdry at all. The story -- which seems to draw offbeat segments out of left field -- strives to comment on intimacy, and how much people crave it.
First taker is Murray's dermatologist, Sharon Stone, who initially mentioned her desire for a menage a trois with her gorgeous friend, played by Sofia Vergara.
Everything's humming along when an Orthodox Jewish widow, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), enters the picture. Ensconced in the Hasidic Jew enclave of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, she has been basically a hermit after her husband died. A patrol officer Dovi (Liev Schrieber) fancies her, but she doesn't give him the time of day. When she sees Fioravante for a therapeutic massage, they become friends.
OK, Woody haters, stop reading right here. As a performer, you either like Woody's mannerisms, or you don't, and I'm a fan. He fits his character perfectly, the ultimate mensch. Age hasn't diminished his ability to toss one-liners off with the best of them, and that's why his early stand-up routines remain hilarious.
Allen works well with Turturro here, who usually plays quirky types, often with quick-tempers and bizarre behaviors. So rendering this nice man, with Don Juan potential, allows him to show us another side. And he stands apart.
Stone proves she can still sizzle on screen, and Vergara is far spicier here than her wife and mother role on "Modern Family."
The biggest surprise is French actress-singer Vanessa Paradis as the shy, pious mother of six. Her restrained character's growth and goodness is evident, and you root for her happiness.
The film's look, capturing autumn in New York neighborhoods, is gorgeous. And it's enhanced by a jazzy score. the melting-pot ethnicity of its characters heightens the appeal, It also features a subtle sensual tone that is uncommon in modern romances. You never know quite where it's headed, and that adds to the journey.
What Doesn't Work
Turturro's broad focus might not entirely succeed, and it's not all tied up neatly at the end, but the film has a warmth and sincerity that's attractive. His character is a man of few words, and the pace is deliberate, and so you can get impatient for things to happen.
Nevertheless, its unpredictability is enough to recommend. You really begin to care what happens to these people, and that connection's a success.
3 stars out of 4
Director: John Turturro
Starring: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Liev Shrieber
Rated:R for some sexual content, language and brief nudity