Would you pay a thousand dollars to have sex with John Turturro?
Okay. That’s what I expected.
But you’re thinking of the geeky Turturro of many Spike Lee and Coen Brothers films, not the sensitive stud muffin of “Fading Gigolo,” which Turturro also wrote and directed.
Turturro plays Fioravante, a semi-employed florist who may or may not also do plumbing and electrical work. His long-time buddy, Murray, is played by Woody Allen in one of his rare appearances in a film he didn’t also direct.
Murray is just closing out the bookshop that’s been in his family for three generations. These are two depressed and somewhat broke shmucks.
When Murray’s dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone), reveals to him that she’d like to find a man to form a threesome with herself and her friend Selima (Sofia Vergara), he naturally–huh?–thinks of Fioravante. The younger man is a hit with the ladies, and, while he’s not a pretty boy, he has a natural masculinity that ought to appeal to the horny dermatologist. Murray and Fioravante will split the money. Which makes Murray a pimp and Fioravante a ho. At first hesitant, the florist finally accepts the idea.
Things get complicated when Murray persuades Avigal (French singer Vanessa Paradis), the widow of a much older Hasidic rabbi and mother of six, to get a massage from his friend. A Hasidic subplot has Fioravante trying to pass himself off as a Sephardic Jew, being tailed by Dovi (Liev Schreiber), a civilian guard in the Hasidic community of Williamsburg (Brooklyn) who’s also sweet on Avigal, and appearing before a court of rabbis.
If things were a bit implausible before, they become really so at this point. How would a very buttoned-up Hasidic woman even consider getting a massage–from a man? And, looking back, why would the dermatologist think of asking a patient to recommend a gigolo? Murray is married to an African-American woman and the father of a passel of boys, but that bit of background material goes nowhere (and the kids are poorly directed).
I didn’t worry about these points too much while watching the film; I was laughing too hard, maybe in part because it’s all so impossibly ludicrous. It’s also touching: Fioravante is a truly likable character, a man who listens to women and knows how to touch them, even without having sex. “You bring magic to the lonely,” says Murray, “and you get paid for it.”
“Fading Gigolo”‘s story may be all over the place, but its heart is right where you want it.