When I heard that John Turturro had written and directed a film—a film starring himself AND Woody Allen, no less—I was excited to see it. Well, this week I saw it, and boy did my balloon burst.
FADING GIGOLO relates a story of a middle-aged under-employed floral designer in New York City who calls himself Fioravante. He is short on cash so, at the urging of his friend, a nebishy old man named Murray Schwartz, Fioravante becomes a high-priced whore to a group of highly-sexed wealthy women. Woven into this comical urban tale is a gentle love story involving Fioravante and the widow of a Chasidic rabbi.
So far, the plot sounds original and full of potential. Right? But the originality of the storyline disappears as the film unfolds in a string of trite symbolism and ethnic stereotypes. There are so many tired symbols of sexuality that I wondered at first if Turturro was aiming at allegory or parody. But he wasn’t. He just used hackneyed approaches to present sex. Take, for instance, how he conveys the height of sexual experience: we see two people in bed and then cut to a man with a garden hose, and water is mightily spraying from that hose. Later we understand that Fioravante is having sex because we hear Dean Martin singing “Sway,” which arguably is the quintessential sex song of the American Song Book. If Turturro’s view of his character is the aging but ever-appealing Italian stud, so be it. Even his choice of actresses to play the sex-driven clients is clichéd: Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara.
Then the Chasidic community of Williamsburg becomes part of the story, and Turturro’s film goes over the top. We are to believe that a widow of a Chasidic rabbi with six children, who does not shake hands with a man or even sit next to a man in a taxi, will be comfortable being left alone in a strange man's apartment and allow him to unfasten her underwear and massage her naked back.
As ethnic stereotypes began to flourish, any remaining enthusiasm I had for this film nosedived… especially in the scenes where Murray’s domestic partner, a strident African-American woman, cooks pork chops, and a tribunal where long-bearded elderly rabbis hold Murray captive, and all distraught cheap Murray Schwartz can do is make a joke that he hopes his lawyer will handle his case pro bono.
The acting is flawless, especially Woody Allen’s performance. He makes an ethnically-stereotyped stock role into a full-blooded character. The location shooting on the streets of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn is of mild interest. Otherwise, FADING GIGOLO is dreary and at times unpleasant.
Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She teaches film studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.
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