Fading Gigolo is a film in which a soon to be impoverished man, Murray (Woody Allen), suggests to his friend Fioravante (John Turturro) that he become a gigolo, since Murray has already found some clients willing to use such services (Sharon Stone and Sofía Vergara). Fading Gigolo is not even nearly believable, but it is clear that this is not some kind of ballsy defiance of story-centric American cinema though less clear whether it is extreme narcissism or just simply unfocussed, unsure filmmaking.
There is also a storyline involving Fioravante’s burgeoning love affair with the widow of a Hassidic Rabbi, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis, playing the widow, not the rabbi). Fioravante brings Avigal out of her shell, but their relationship becomes complicated when Dovi (Liev Schreiber), who works for Shomrim, a civilian neighbourhood watch group, and who himself loves Avigal, begins to investigate Fioravante.
Fading Gigolo suggests first of all that Sharon Stone and Sofía Vergara would need to pay for sex. Then it suggests that they would willingly pay rather a large sum for sex with John Turturro – which is more odd since Turturro wrote it. This wasn’t such a problem since other films require a much greater stretching of one’s sense of disbelief – Spiderman, for instance. This isn’t a particularly overwhelming problem and it is easy to ignore if one decides not to be bothered by it. Indeed, this degree of male wish fulfilment is something of a staple in American comedies anyway, as Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and, even, Woody Allen films show.
The real problem with the film as far as its storyline is concerned is that it doesn’t seem planned in any way. In the opening moments, characters are introduced badly – as if Turturro’s main concern was avoiding bad exposition. Two characters (presumably Avigal’s children) are introduced without any context whatsoever – they don’t even seem to be in the same room as the action of the previous scene and they say nothing that suggests who they are or what their connection is with the rest of the film. Indeed, it takes a long time for Avigal’s role in the film to become clear and even then it seems unsure. Avigal visits Fioravante, presumably to use his services since Murray has set up the meeting, but all of a sudden it turns out she is only there for a massage, which Fioravante seems to have been expecting and is also fully capable of providing. Soon after they are in love. But it doesn’t seem to make any sense and it certainly doesn’t bare any relation to the whole ‘Fioravante as gigolo’ storyline. On top of that, Dovi never properly investigates Fioravante and he never finds out that he is a gigolo and neither does Avigal, so it all seems to go nowhere. Instead, Murray is investigated, arrested and tried but by then Turturro has introduced a whole new character (played by Bob Balaban) to sort everything out. Then Avigal declares her love for Dovi, without any prior indication that she even liked him and despite all of his rather unsavoury actions. Fading Gigolo feels like it never had more than one draft, the result of a writing exercise in which two outlandish and incompatible storylines are given and the writer has to make do as well as he might – one used, presumably, to teach them that there are limits to their abilities, a lesson John Turturro may not have appreciated.
All of that said however, Fading Gigolo is a comedy and since when did comedies have to make sense. Airplane and Monty Python and the Holy Grail certainly don’t. But both of those films are funny and Fading Gigolo isn’t – not once. The primary focus (initially at least) of the film is on the comedy between Fioravante and Murray, which is good but a little too much like a cheap Woody Allen imitation than the real thing. Casting Woody Allen here is a coup, but it doesn’t really work in the film’s favour since it only invites comparison to films that are much better. There is a secondary focus on Fioravante’s squeamishness about being a gigolo, although this is dropped almost immediately during his first encounter with Sharon Stone’s Dr Parker. All of a sudden, Fioravante is surprisingly good at being value for money. In fact, he’s suddenly an expert – hardly a fading gigolo at all. Then, Turturro decides that Fading Gigolo is a romantic film after all and he drops these scenes for a New York-advertising, sensual kind of filmmaking that is at odds with all of what has come before. The aforementioned massage scene goes on for much, much longer than it really needs to. And just as before Fioravante had suddenly become an expert gigolo, now he just as suddenly becomes an expert masseuse and an expert cook – neither skill established earlier in the film. It is hard not to wonder if the whole thing isn’t just some kind of vanity project from John Turturro, who just wanted to make a film in which he starred as a hyper-capable, incredibly knowledgeable and extremely cultured romantic lead, who gets to have all sorts of love scenes with a variety of attractive actresses.
Fading Gigolo doesn’t make much sense and it is laughably narcissistic in a way that could be forgiven if it wasn’t so unashamedly so. But its major crime is that it isn’t funny when it really could have been. It is a film of wasted potential, with an awkward, lazy tone and no fully developed characters.