Fading Gigolo, starring Woody Allen as a fast-talking slightly neurotic Jewish New York Book shop owner, is not a Woody Allen film. Huh?
Yes, there is no doubt that Woody Allen’s turn in Fading Gigolo is influenced highly by the best characters he’s played in the past and this is the best role he’s had in ages (since he rarely appears in his own films anymore). But it plays unfortunately like two films awkwardly squeezed in to one; one a quirky comedy, the other a heartfelt drama, and it can’t seem to blend these tones together.
Woody Allen plays Murray who, when his bookstore closes, goes into business with his friend Fioravante (John Tuturro, also the writer and director). Tuturro becomes the gigolo of the title, with Allen as effectively his pimp. Fioravante sees such clients as Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara, incredible-looking women with unbelievable amounts of wealth.
Sure, it’s a bit unbelievable that John Tuturro would be able to attract clients like that, but hey. This is the premise of a silly comedy that appears to not be taking itself too seriously – until it attempts to become a drama, bringing in the plotline of Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), a Hassidic widow who Fioravante decides to help, but not as a gigolo.
At this point the film awkwardly cuts between scenes of emotional catharsis as Fioravante helps Avigal move on from her husband, and warm wit as Murray jokes with everyone he meets. Also on their tail is Liev Schreiber’s neighbourhood patrolman, who begins to suspect something odd as woman after woman comes out of Murray’s house to be ferried away to Fioravante’s apartment.
Unfortunately Schreiber is, like the rest of the film, uneven. One minute he’s played for laughs, chastising his partner for crying when hit by a baseball, the next minute he’s assembling a council to investigate what’s going on and the comedy goes out the window.
Of note is the fantastic cinematography; the use of light helps with the film’s warm, retro feel, making the interiors feel luxurious and inviting and Tuturro’s heavy use of close-ups establishes an interesting visual style.
The film’s best scenes are when Allen and Tuturro are on screen together; the quiet and understated Firovante is a great counterpoint to Murray and they genuinely seem like friends. It’s at these points that it almost doesn’t need a plot. Unfortunately it continues with one anyway, resulting in an unfocused but enjoyable piece.
While it’s not a case of all style no substance, the substance in Fading Gigolo is definitely underdeveloped. Ultimately there’s plenty to admire about it and for all its flaws it’s quite an enjoyable watch. It’s just a shame it can’t pull off everything it tries to go for.
Image Rights; Antidote Films