Saturday, August 23, 2014

Film Review: Fading Gigolo

"Fading Gigolo"
** 1\2 (out of ****)

After I watch any movie I always start off by asking myself a very simple question. Did I like the movie I just saw? It has to be an absolute answer. It can't be maybe. Either yes or no. After I answer that question the next one I ask myself is more difficult. Why? Why did I like the movie? Why didn't I like the movie? And the answer can't be a simple "because". What kind of review would that make? This is a good movie because. Thank you and good night.

I mention all of this because after watching John Turturro's "Fading Gigolo" (2014) I had a more difficult time than usual answering the questions. I was somehow stuck in the middle. Initially I was going to give the movie three stars but it didn't feel right to me. I couldn't justify a recommendation. What would it be based upon? I didn't find the movie to be completely entertaining or satisfying. But why?

In "Fading Gigolo" Turturro stars as Fioravante. He works part time in a flower shop. His best friend is Murray (Woody Allen). Murray owns a bookstore that after years of business, he inherited the store form his father, must close its doors. Both men are strapped for cash.

During a visit to Murray's dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), she mentions to him in passing that her and her friend, Selima (Sofia Vergara) were talking about how they would like to have a menage a trois. She asks Murray if he knows anyone that would be interested. Now, why a dermatologist is speaking this way to a patient is beyond me and why she would ask him to help is a another story. All I can say is, I better start going to see a dermatologist. Who knows what can happen!

Murray suggest his friend Fioravante would be able to do it. Fioravante is shocked. He is an older man. He doesn't consider himself attractive. And, he has never done anything like this before. Murray suggest they ask the women to pay a fee, thus making Murray Fioravante's pimp.

At this point you really don't know what to expect from "Fading Gigolo". Is it going to turn into a raunchy sex comedy? It is going to tell us you can't have sex without love? Is there some moral to this story?

That's largely the problem with "Fading Gigolo". I could never tell its intentions. What is the purpose of this story? What did John Turturro want the audience to think after the picture?

The plot soon focuses on a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn (the film takes place in New York) and a widow named Avigal (Vanessa Paradis, who I first noticed in the movie "Cafe de Flore" (2011), she is a well known singer in France). Her husband has been dead for two years. Together they had six children. Also in the community is Dovi (Liev Schreiber) he patrols the neighborhood. We also catch him staring at Avigal. He admires her from afar.

Murray, sensing Avigal's loneliness, suggest she meet his friend, who now calls himself Virgil. The movie now is about the difference in culture between Hasidic Jews and the Gentiles. The Hasidic community, in particular Dovi frown upon "their women" mixing with non-Jews.

It's not exactly clear what any of this has to be with Turturro's original concept? Turturro has said in interviews, one of the original ideas to intrigue him to make this movie was the idea of people paying someone to be with them because they are lonely. But, I just feel there were other ways Turturro could have given that theme across without involving Hasidic Jews and getting bogged down in explaining this community (which the movie never does).

When I first saw the trailers for "Fading Gigolo" I thought it seemed like a vanity project for Turturro. An older guy having the opportunity to film sex scenes with beautiful women. In this one movie Turturro would position himself as a handsome man. Women would throw themselves at him and call him a great lover.

After watching "Fading Gigolo" my original thought may not have been too far off. "Fading Gigolo" seems to have nothing to say about these characters or sex. It throws a twist late in the game at us which comes out of nowhere and gave the audience no prior warning as to the characters feelings for one another.

Does "Fading Gigolo" want to say something about women? What goes on in their heads? How do they view love and sex? The movie almost makes no comment on any character's behavior. Nothing is learned.

Turturro is a talented actor. He may be best known to the public for his work with the Coen Brothers in movies like "The Big Lebowski" (1998) and Spike Lee movies; "Girl, 6" (1996) and "Clockers" (1995). He was also in Robert Redford's great "Quiz Show" (1994) and co-starred with Woody Allen in the "comedy" "Company Man" (2000), which neither man directed.

Woody Allen on the other hand is the greatest comedy filmmaker since Charlie Chaplin. He usually doesn't appear in other director's movies (Allen says because no one asks). Though his role here reminded me of the character he played in "The Front" (1976). That movie was about communism and the blacklist, but, Allen played a bookie.

It is always a pleasure to see Allen onscreen but he actually isn't that funny in this movie. He is doing his usual schtick, the stuttering, the wild hand gestures, the cowardice behavior, but it doesn't translate as well because Turturro hasn't given him much to work it. Though between Allen and Turturro, Allen has the better character and is more pleasurable to watch onscreen. At least Allen gave us "Magic in the Moonlight" (2014) this year, which is more entertaining to watch than this.

"Fading Gigolo" feels like a missed opportunity. It could have used a few more re-writes. It needed a definite position. It needed to make a statement. To better understand its characters. And to have better jokes.