As the title suggests, Fading Gigolo is perhaps as exciting as a waning escort can be. While the story line of a male escort may interest those relishing role-reversals in cinema, what we get from John Turturro is a pseudo-classic era Woody Allen film with neither the wit nor the complexity such films are praised for.
After being forced to close his bookshop, Murray (Woody Allen) is asked by Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone) whether he knows anyone who will engage in a ménage à trios with her and her girlfriend. Murray decides that his friend Fioravante (John Turturro) would be perfect for the task. Notwithstanding the ludicrous proposition that Sharon Stone and Sofía Vergara would ever need to pay someone like Turturro for sex, and labelling him “top shelf, hard to reach. That’s what makes you so good”, the two friends decide that the experience was just lucrative enough to turn into a profession. Murray plays the role of a pimp to entice lonely women. One such attempt leads to an encounter with Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), the widow of a Hassidic rabbi, who causes Fioravante to fall in love and doubt the suitability of his newfound profession. Meanwhile, suspicious of her sudden shift in mood, the Hasidic Jews from Avigal’s borough set out to investigate.
For the majority of the film Fioravante is not a gigolo in the sense of a companion that provides emotional as well as physical support; he is, unequivocally, a prostitute. One scene shows a female prostitute offering her services to Fioravante, yet it portrays her as being morally and intellectually inferior to a man who engages in the same profession. By vainly attempting to raise himself above the social status of a “streetwalker”, Turturro reveals the film’s hypocrisy, reinforcing its already egocentric premise. No amount pretentious Spanish phrases that bombard the audience every couple of minutes can mask the fact his profession relies on the base desires of his clients. He only gets past the sexualised aspect of his job once Avigal breaks down as he gives her a massage, a scene which is, admittedly, effective at representing the therapeutic effects that physical intimacy can provide. For the most part however the film seems to suggest that problems can be resolved through either paying or being paid for sex. Money, loneliness, and a failing marriage, Fading Gigolo just might be Turturro advocating the legalisation of prostitution.
The occasional cinematographic flair combined with charming performances by lead actors are just about enough to save Fading Gigolo from complete failure. The chemistry between Turturro and Allen is clear from the start, proving to be the real, if only, selling point of the film. Allen’s jokes are reminiscent of his performance in Annie Hall (1977), whilst Turturro has a few clever one-liners; yet these peter out into tedium as more attention is given to finding desperate women to take advantage of. It could be said that all the problems stem from a poor screenplay and equally poor plotting. At one point Avigal calls Fioravante to tell him that men are looking for Murray, yet she had no way of knowing this was the case since she was with her children at the time. In another instance, one of Murray’s grandchildren has a problem with constipation; presumably Turturro felt the previous scene was too highbrow and it needed to be brought down a peg.
If we can claim “it’s the thought that counts” then Fading Gigolo can perhaps be redeemed. In an interview with The Guardian Turturro expresses his belief that acting is a “service business” and films act “out people’s wishes or fantasies”. Fioravante’s casual flings might reveal the emotional strain that comes from a transient profession, escorting and perhaps also acting, and so his infatuation with Avigal hints at a psychological need for a more stable lifestyle. Nonetheless, knowing Turturro’s intentions does not excuse the film from being as tepid as it is.