The Pimp and the Protégé

Fading Gigolo
(USA, 90 min.)
Written and directed by John Turturro
Starring: John Turturro, Woody Allen, Vanessa Paradis, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Liev Schreiber
John Turturro (Fioravante) and Woody Allen. Photo courtesy of Mongrel Media.

John Turturro makes a decent stab at making a Woody Allen movie with his latest picture, Fading Gigolo. Fading Gigolo is an enjoyably unconventional take on the oldest profession. Woody Allen has always fancied himself a man with the ladies, casting himself in progressively wider May-December romances with everyone from Helen Hunt to Scarlett Johansson, but Fading Gigolo fashions the Woodman in an age-appropriate role as the seasoned neurotic pimping his friend (Turturro) out to a pair of bombshell New Yorkers played by Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara. Any Allen fan will undoubtedly appreciate Woody’s turn on the screen. He appears in front of the camera less and less these days, and a role this fun is worth the curiosity alone.

If Allen helps draw attention to Fading Gigolo, then audiences—especially Allen fans—will see Allen’s influence all over Turturro’s film. This enjoyably talky picture features a gaggle of neurotic New Yorkers with sex, love, and death on the brain. Turturro fashions himself as the antithesis of the typical “Woody Allen character” that comprises the male leads of Allen films, for his amateur gigolo Fioravante is a suave, cool, even-tempered man who is far more convincingly successful with the ladies than Allen usually is. Throw in a subplot with a rabbinical widow (Vanessa Paradis) to round out the film’s fetching ensemble and Fading Gigolo has nearly all the makings of a film directed by Allen himself.

Fading Gigolo doesn’t have the snap of an Allen film, though, nor does it have the same cultural richness and artistic finesse. It doesn’t help, either, that Allen’s performance is a highlight of Turturro’s film, even though he essentially plays a variation on the same Woody Allen character that he plays in virtually every one of his own films, which is a bit surprising, since Allen’s performances are rarely the best thing about the films in which he directs himself. Fading Gigolo is a fun, enjoyable, and observant comedy, but it somewhat plays like an entry in the canon of lesser Allen films. Fading Gigolo proves that there really is an art to the stuff Allen cranks out year after year. Watching Allen play the curmudgeonly pimp to Turturro’s wise protégé, though, Fading Gigolo works best as a study in seeing one filmmaker learn from another.

Rating: ★★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Fading Gigolo is now on home video from Mongrel Media.