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Review: John Turturro Casts Himself Opposite Woody Allen in 'Fading Gigolo'

Photo of John Anderson By John Anderson | Thompson on Hollywood April 15, 2014 at 2:46PM

Directing himself and Woody Allen in Miami Fest entry 'Fading Gigolo,' triple-threat John Turturro navigates tricky sexual territory with delicacy.
John Turturro and Woody Allen in 'Fading Gigolo'
John Turturro and Woody Allen in 'Fading Gigolo'

In his latest, “Fading Gigolo,” John Turturro exercises what amounts to the urban auteur’s droit de seigneur, casting himself as a member of New York’s studliest, directing himself into a three-way with Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara, and satisfying a client list that looks like it walked out of the pages of Vogue Paris. His pimp? Woody Allen.

Yes, there are many distracting, stunt-like happenings in Turturro’s latest directorial effort -- including the presence of Vanessa Paradis as a Hasidic widow from Williamsburg – enough that one might easily be distracted from the more soulful qualities of Turturro’s chamber comedy, its utterly personal statement on love and intimacy and, of course, its utterly fanciful story, set in an imaginary city called New York. 

Woody Allen and John Turturro on the set of 'Fading Gigolo'
Woody Allen and John Turturro on the set of 'Fading Gigolo'

Turturro tends to go his own way as a director, being, among other things, a voluptuary re: visuals – there is one shot of Turturro and Vanessa Paradis in Central Park by DP Marco Pontecorvo that is nothing short of a pre-Raphaelite hallucination. But he also owes quite a bit here to his co-star. Allen, who has acted for only a handful of directors other than himself (including Martin Ritt, Paul Mazursky and Alfonso Arau), gives a solid performance. But his comedic timing also makes any scene he’s in his own.

The casting has a Woody Allen feel to it, too. In addition to Stone, Vergara and Paradis, Liev Schreiber shows up as a Hasidic cop, Bob Balaban is an Orthodox lawyer, Michael Badalucco suffers roads rage and Tonya Pinkins – who is she exactly? Part of “Fading Gigolo’s” charms is in not tying up all the loose ends, emotional or otherwise.

Pinkins is Othella who, with a passel of adorable kids who all appear to be the same age, lives with Uncle Mo (Allen), who seems to be the breadwinner, but has been coming home empty handed from the bakery. When his dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Stone), admits to Mo that she and her friend Selima (Vergara) are interested in having a ménage a trois, Mo suggests she seek professional help. The “professional” he has in mind is his florist friend, Fioravante (Turturro) who has no experience as penis for hire and is initially aghast. But, you know, he needs the money. So does Mo.

So Fioravante gives it a shot, one thing leads to another, and he soon is a very busy boy. One of the themes of “Fading Gigolo” is that you can’t tell a book by its cover: Fioravante is no Adonis, but he has something. And it’s selling.

Where Turturro’s script goes awry – even as it provides some of the film’s more touching moments -- is in Mo’s connecting of Fioravante with Avigal (Paradis), the Hasidic woman who removes lice from the hair of school kids (like Othella’s), and who has been alone the two years since her husband died. Connecting a Hasid with a gigolo, however chaste the subsequent scenaria makes one uncomfortable, even though Paradis handles her role with delicacy. The entire cast is strong, although a director with a less intimate relationship with his lead actor might have chosen to have Fioravante lighten up a bit.  

"Fading Gigolo" hits theaters April 18, via Millennium Entertainment.

This article is related to: John Turturro, Fading Gigolo, Reviews, Reviews, Festivals

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.