Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber, Bob Balaban
Written by: John Turturro
Directed by: John Turturro
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content, language and brief nudity
Running Time: 98
Date: 04/18/2014

Fading Gigolo (2014)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Autumn Flowers

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Turturro's Fading Gigolo sounds like a terrible idea, and a potentially offensive one at that. But the result is surprisingly gentle and in touch with real feelings, not to mention very funny.

An older bookshop owner, Murray (Woody Allen) is forced to close down his store at the same time that a female doctor he knows, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), happens to mention that she'd like to have a threesome with her girlfriend and another man. She even suggests that she'd pay for the privilege. Murray considers his former employee and friend Fioravante (Turturro) for the job.

Fioravante is soft-spoken but strong, confident but not cocky, and he's still in pretty good shape for a guy of about fifty. He also works as a flower arranger and a plumber, plus he is well read and knows how to cook. But Dr. Parker and her girlfriend Selima (Sofia Vergara) want a test drive, each, before they try him together.

Dr. Parker has a successful encounter, and Murray begins getting other jobs for Fioravante. Most of these pass by in a montage, but one key job is the lovely Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a widow whose husband was a rabbi. (She knows how to get lice out of Murray's kids' hair.) Her community frowns on her having any kind of a life, not to mention that a shomrim -- a Jewish police officer -- from her neighborhood, Dovi (Liev Schreiber), loves her and hopes to marry her.

In a most extraordinary sequence, Murray brings Avigal to Fioravante's apartment. It's clear that sex is going to be out of the question; Avigal has too many barriers up, both emotional and cultural. So Fioravante makes her dinner, gives her some special gourmet dinner talk to impress her, and then simply rubs her shoulders. This basic contact breaks through to something that has not been disturbed for a long time, and she responds with tears.

Avigal is profoundly affected by this encounter, and Fioravante begins to fall in love, which has further repercussions on its job; the body desires what it desires and nothing more.

Fioravante is a fascinating character, one that -- as Turturro told me -- began as a kind of samurai or cowboy character, a stoic loner. It's interesting that he's successful with women but still single; how many times has he been in love and been hurt? His relationship with Murray adds another layer. Fioravante seems bemused by Murray's humorously bleak look at the world, but the men have a genuine affection for each other.

Turturro captures a very strong, flavorful Brooklyn atmosphere and has fun decorating apartments to reflect the characters: an austere apartment with a climbing wall for Dr. Parker, and a cluttered ramshackle place for Murray (he takes a business call in the closet).

But, as with most actor-turned-directors, Turturro's primary concern is with the characters. He writes great lines and interesting layers for them, and the entire cast gives very strong performances, notably Sharon Stone in her few scenes, but especially Woody Allen, who gives his best, funniest overall performance in any movie since maybe Crimes and Misdemeanors. He's at his loosest and freshest, as if the weight of writing and directing were lifted from his shoulders. His line readings sound Allen-ish, but the lines are Turturro's.

It's difficult to watch Allen and not think of the horrible allegations leveled at him by his adopted daughter Dylan earlier this year. Both parties claimed that the other was not being truthful, and in the end, no one really knows what happened. It's ultimately up to the public to decide if they are able to separate life from art. As for me, I was fully able to enjoy Allen's work here, as well as the obvious friendship he seems to share with Turturro onscreen.

However, judging by the early reviews, it appears to be the topic of sex that is -- as usual -- turning off the critics. Critics are paid to use their brains and henceforth often ignore their bodies (horror films and comedies are also victims of this process). But if viewers can walk into the movie with an open mind and make it past the movie's first ten minutes without being offended, then they're in for a treat.

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