“Do you have any idea what goes on in a woman’s head?”

This question comes from the luscious lips of Amazonian beauty Sofía Vergara about half an hour into the new film Fading Gigolo. She’s challenging her male escort—oh, let’s just face it, he’s a prostitute — Firoavante, played by John Turturro.

If you’re familiar with actor/director/screenwriter Turturro, you may find his alleged profession in this movie unlikely. Until you realize that the casting of his pimp is even more so: Woody Allen.

As Murray, Allen, now 78, plays his usual nebbishy, overanalyzed self. With his bookstore closing and a patchwork quilt of a family to support, he sees an opportunity and takes it. His dermatologist, it seems, is interested in putting together a ménage à trois with her girlfriend and a paid third. Does Murray know of anyone who might fit the bill? He immediately thinks of his pal Fioravante, a tall, dark, and not exactly handsome florist.

“I’m not a beautiful man,” Fioravante objects. Murray assures him that he has “a certain kind of sex appeal.” With bills to pay and $1,000 to split, a partnership is formed. Later, as business booms, they come up with new names: the gigolo becomes Virgil Howard and his manager, Dan Bongo.

Dr. Parker, the dermatologist and client number one, turns out to be Sharon Stone. At 56, Stone is still gorgeous (in fact, the idea that she and best pal Vergara couldn’t have found a dozen willing—and free—volunteers for their threesome is fairly preposterous). She quickly becomes addicted to her new employee. She finds him unreachable and deep. As the audience, we’re never quite sure whether he’s impenetrable or just vacant. Some of the scenes with his “clients” (what is the female equivalent of a john, anyway?) reminded me of Being There, the 1979 film in which Peter Sellers, as simple-minded Chauncey Gardner, is mistaken for a prophet. An interesting idea, but not, I think, Turturro’s intent.

We get a quick montage of all the apparently satisfied women Fioravante beds. When he finally visits Vergara’s exotic Selima (the women have decided to each try him solo before the big event), Dr. Parker calls. She’s too jealous “to share.” So, apparently, the gigolo gets paid an exorbitant amount for watching basketball with Selima instead.

Meanwhile, there’s an elaborate but not wholly explained subplot involving Murray and his family. He is living with (or married to; it’s unclear) Othella (Tonya Pinkins), a zaftig African American woman with a pack of children. Their apartment is small; at least a couple of the kids sleep on bunk beds in the living room. In such close quarters, it’s not surprising that all the youngsters have contracted lice. So, off Allen goes with his “rainbow coalition” to the lice lady, who happens to be a Hasidic Jewish widow.

Because nothing makes more sense in a movie about a male prostitute than the introduction of a Hasidic Jewish widow. Right? Of course right.

Of course, entrepreneurial Murray sees a potential client. Avigal, played by French actress/singer Vanessa Paradis, still mourns the loss of her rabbi husband. She’s lovely and lonely, and Murray explains that he has a friend who may be able to help.

At this point, the movie heads down a new path. It turns out that Dovi (Liev Schreiber), an officer of the community’s Shomrim (neighborhood watch), is in love with Avigal. As he watches her slowly come back to life under the healing hands of Fioravante (his services limited, in her case, to massage therapy and kosher dinners), Dovi becomes jealous. This leads to all kinds of shenanigans: detective work, stalking, kidnapping, and eventually a rabbinical tribunal.

Have I lost you? I’m not surprised.

I fell for Fading Gigolo when I saw the trailer several weeks ago. It was crisp and clever. At just two and a half minutes long, it felt balanced. It lacked the competing stories and pacing issues that plague the longer movie. In reality, with so many different stories and moods, Fading Gigolo is a hot mess, which at times, frankly, could be hotter. For a movie about a sex worker, the sex isn’t very sexy. Sorry.

My main issue is with the character of Fioravante. Whether or not he knows what goes on inside a woman’s head, we never truly get to see what’s happening inside his. As I’ve already mentioned, he doesn’t seem to connect much. This is problematic, given that we’re supposed to believe that an average-looking guy becomes a hot, hot, hot commodity because of his ability to connect with frustrated women.

How would I describe Fading Gigolo? It takes place at street level, in the neighborhoods of New York. The story revolves around a neurotic fellow who gets himself in an unlikely situation. It’s a combination of melancholy human fable and borscht belt comedy. Sounds a lot like a Woody Allen movie, doesn’t it? Yet writer/director Turturro, as talented as he is, struggles to find the balance that seems so effortless for Allen. Some scenes are too long; some too short. There’s too much jazz in the background.

Yet, with so many problems, small and large, I found myself smiling through the movie and afterwards.

In retrospect, Fading Gigolo is more like real life than one might think. I went into the theater optimistic; I saw great potential. Soon, though, it was obvious that there were plenty of flaws. It wasn’t perfect after all— far from it. And yet I couldn’t help but enjoy myself.

I expected to fall in love. That feeling faded. But the affection remained.

 

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  • Maggie May 13, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    I had a completely different opinion. I thought it was what a 17 year old boy thought women want. Very superficial. I was disappointed.

    Reply
  • D. A. Wolf May 13, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    To clarify… drawbacks in the film, surely not this review!

    DW

    Reply
  • D. A. Wolf May 13, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Even with it’s apparent drawbacks, this is a balanced review and the film sounds intriguing.

    Incidentally, the title of this column caught my attention not only for obvious reasons, but because recently I watched 1980’s American Gigolo on cable.

    Not only was it a blast from the past in terms of fashion, style, vehicles, and so on, but for the many other ways in which certain societal views seem not to change on men, women, and sex.

    Thank you for this review. I look forward to catching this one when it hits cable or Netflix.

    Reply