“Yeah, she’s my doctor, but in today’s world she could be a psychopathic axe murderer.”
John Turturro is one of the few “interesting” looking character actors who managed to make the jump from “that guy from that thing”, to an actual, recognisable name. In supporting roles, he’s managed to steal movies from much more famous leads in things like Do the Right Thing, Miller’s Crossing and Rounders. While I love him as an actor, and while I know he’s made a few movies as director, it took the addition of Woody Allen in an acting role to make me finally watch a John Turturro joint.
John Turturro is Fioravante, a working class florist and gentle soul. His best friend is Murray (Woody Allen), the owner of a small second hand book shop that is closing down. There’s a quick reference to Murray saving a young Fioravante from a life of crime, but really, that little bit of back story is unnecessary. Turturro and Allen make their friendship seem so real and lived in, you don’t need any history to make it believable when Murray suggests Fioravante becomes a gigolo, and Fioravante eventually agrees.
You see, Murray’s therapist (Sharon Stone) has mentioned she’s interested in experimenting with a threesome, but doesn’t know where to start. With his shop closing and Fioravante’s floral career hardly booming, Murray sees it as a chance to make them both some money. As his character himself says in the movie, John Turturro is not a pretty man, but it’s his confidence, Murray explains, and his good heart that make him attractive. And while this might seem a little too optimistic in the real world, Turturro makes it work in the world of Fading Gigolo.
On an excursion into a Jewish neighborhood to have his step children de-liced, Murray meets widow Avigal (Vanessa Paradis). Orthodox and very repressed, Murray still sees her as a prospective client and sets the wheels in motion for her to meet Fioravante. But with Avigal also comes Dovi (Live Schreiber), a local neighborhood watch security guard who is obviously in love with her. He’s been patiently waiting for her mourning period to end, and is quickly suspicious of Murray and Fioravante when they appear on the scene. Fioravante might be the main character, but it’s Avigal learning to move on from her dead husband who gets the journey.
And as the only other character to show any actual growth or arc, Paradis is technically the second lead in Fading Gigilo, but that doesn’t stop Allen from not only stealing every scenes his in, but also the scenes that follow his appearances. I don’t know if John Turtorro is amazing at writing for Woody Allen, or if he let Allen improvise his dialogue, or maybe Woody Allen just isn’t a very versatile actor. But the character of Murray could have come from a dozen of Allen’s own movies. And as a Woody Allen fan, I’m totally fine with that.
If any other person wrote a role for themself where they got paid to sleep with Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara, it would seem like the biggest vanity project, self fellatio-tatsic piece of egotistical wish fulfillment ever committed to film. But there’s something about the combination of confidence and vulnerability to the Fioravante character that makes it believable. It’s that same combination of confidence and vulnerability that also makes the ending work. In the hands of almost any other actor in that central role, the ending would have seemed overtly contrived, convenient and on the nose. With Turturro running the show, in front of and behind the camera, it just works.