Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fading Gigolo (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

Fading Gigolo

In director John Turturro's (Passione) fifth film "Fading Gigolo," you might think you just stepped into Woody Allen's Yiddish yore.

And you would almost be right.

John Turturro stars here in his own unapologetically silly story about an under-employed New York florist, Fioravante and his meek but imaginative, excitable friend, Murray, a septuagenarian bookseller (Woody Allen).  Fioravante is in need of money, without a place to stay. Through an overheard conversation with a doctor, Murray gets the idea to make Fioravante into an instant  escort to secure his friend's expenses.

Allen gives many one liners some of them funny and others a bit flat, mostly hamming up the oft-repeated concept of his own nebbish and unassuming persona transformed (somewhat) into a figure of importance.

As if to take a cue from Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm'" Murray has a black step-family and while this could well have some meaning and humor, not one of his family members are given any depth.

Allen's role is chiefly delivered to give an excitable and aghast counter to Fioravante's zen passivity. One line that works is about Fioravante's sex appeal and mentions Mick Jagger. "Look at Mick...he's old and when he opens his mouth, he's a horror but he's got have it."

It is Allen's delivery that will make you laugh even if the stumbling  cajoling attitude is all too familiar.

Suffice to say, Murray convinces Fioravante to be beefcake for hire. Our sensitive hunk turns up at appointment after appointment, ravished by a cougar cartoon in the form of Sharon Stone and the Jessica Rabbit racked Sofia Vergara whose breasts qualify for soft porn.

A soft spoken and self-absorbed Orthodox widow, Avigal, (Vanessa Paradis)  who teaches at a yeshiva is drawn to the interior Fioravante and makes an appointment. Chemistry sparks. Paradis with a singular verve does excellently in this role as a sheltered and yearning woman who struggles to let her actual hair fly unrestrained, forbidden under orthodox rule. These scenes alone have a vibrant heart.

This poignance gets bogged down however, by a stale and tepid bit involving Murray getting hauled in by the Shomrim guards to face excommunication. While this might raise a titter or two among those unschooled in Allen's oeuvre, even the most steadfast of the auteur's fans will find this trite, as Allen has done this bumbling and Kafkaesque Why-me shtick before facing  a grizzled and scornful council of rabbis.

Turturro plays it sincerely enough in the title role but we are given only sketchy details as to what really matters to this man who can go from cold Casanova to a blossoming and introspective romantic with an acrobatic agility. What of Fioravante's past? Murray's? Or  Dovi's, the Shomrim guard. As Avigal  is the only full fleshed character, what unfolds is a New Yorker cartoon.

As light as these exchanges are Turturro and Allen do have amiable charm which goes a while, despite things going a little too wack in Williamsburg.

The most heartfelt subtext to "Fading Gigolo" is the grimness of favorite hangouts closing down and disappearing, from soda counter, bistro and bookshop, permanently and forever. Forget the brash women and the hesitant happenstance. The real pathos here is a nostalgia for a lost New York.  Fioravante functions best as a poetic sentinel: inward, yet fiery, wanting to protect the last of his beloved neighborhood's urban seltzer.

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