Here’s one of the nicest treats of the year: a sweet,
bracingly original, wholly entertaining film from John Turturro with a plum
part for none other than Woody Allen. In fact, every role is perfectly and
inventively cast—and each player lovingly shot by cinematographer Marco
Pontecorvo. What’s more, the soundtrack features jazz great Gene Ammons playing
a number of timeless standards.
Allen has often said that he has a limited range as an actor, but this part was crafted with him in mind. He’s a delight to watch, looking much younger than his years and firing up his comedic chops as a garrulous friend of Turturro’s who proposes him for a surprising job: acting as gigolo for Allen’s dermatologist (Sharon Stone), who wants to indulge in some sexual experimentation.
Turturro is a Brooklyn florist whose bank balance is such that he can’t turn down the lucrative offer. He’s also sexually confident, which Stone finds appealing, like other women who follow her in the men’s burgeoning, underground business. But when Allen recruits an unusual new client, a young Hasidic widow (Vanessa Paradis), Turturro finds himself in a quandary: he’s genuinely attracted to her, which doesn’t sit well with her protective Hasidic community, especially a “neighborhood watch” officer played by Liev Schreiber.
As offbeat as the story may be, there is no leering. Despite some nudity and sexuality, the premise is carried out in almost whimsical fashion. As writer and director, Turturro enjoys upending our expectations and repeatedly disarming us. Unhappily married Stone and her gal-pal Sofia Vergara aren’t as kinky as you might expect them to be, nor is Paradis completely trapped in her religious cocoon. And while the actor-filmmaker paints an idealized picture of Brooklyn, he doesn’t ignore the prejudices that exist between long-entrenched ethnic groups; he simply chooses to deal with them lightly.
Fading Gigolo is an enjoyable modern-day fable for adults that will leave both men and women with a smile on their faces. How many movies can make that claim?