At first glance you’ll think “Fading Gigolo” is a Woody Allen film. It has many of the traditional earmarks: white titles on a black background while an evocative tune plays, a New York setting, an oddball screenplay that is both witty and warm, and a strong ensemble featuring Woody. But the quirky comedy is written, directed and co-stars John Turturro, and while the homage to Mr. Allen is apparent, Turturro’s vision is his, and his alone.
When Murray’s (Allen) dermatologist Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) mentions she’s looking for a man to participate in a ménage à trois with her and her gorgeous friend Selima (Sofia Vergara), he seizes an opportunity and convinces his shy friend, Fioravante (Turturro), to join the world’s oldest profession. While Fioravante, an electrician turned florist, is at first hesitant at the prospect of being Murray’s “ho,” he also needs the cash and comes to realize that there are worse ways to make a living than making two attention starved women happy.
Meanwhile Murray has come across an unusual second client for Fioravante: Avigal (brilliantly played by French actress, Vanessa Paradis), the widow of a revered Hasidic Rabbi, whom she married when she was very young. Twenty years later, Avigal now finds herself with six children, memories of a life lived only within the cloistered world of the Hasidic community, and a desperate yearning to experience something new. When Murray proposes that she visit Fioravante, she grasps this opportunity, curious as to where it might lead her.
The fly in the ointment is Dovi (Liev Schreiber), a Hasidic policeman (who knew there were Hasidic police?) who has pined for her since boyhood. Constricted both by religion and insecurity, his passion takes the form of watchfulness over Avigal and her children. Seeing Avigal with Fioravante arouses Dovi’s suspicion, and before long, his jealousy.
“Gigolo” is an utterly charming film, and Turturro has gathered a perfect ensemble, topped by a touching performance from the lovely Paradis and the lovelorn and simmering Schreiber. Allen is at his best as the bumbling opportunist Murray, but it is Turturro’s turn as the sudden lothario that makes the piece gel. Though his character is a man of little words, his face speaks volumes.
The Bottom Line: “Fading Gigolo” is a terrific independent film. It will be a fine rental, but deserves to be seen on a bigger screen. In Sacramento, it is playing at the Tower Theater.
Rated R, for some sexual content, language and slight nudity. 1 hr. 38 min.