A few editing glitches towards the end of FADING GIGOLO does little to detract from the films Savvy charm, gentle humor and essential sweetness. Writer/director/star John Turturros exploration of sex, intimacy, and loneliness has knockout performances, sly insight, and a tantalizing premise going for it.
Turturro stars as Fioravante, a part-time florist with a soulful heart, a dwindling bank account, and a tender way with women. Out of the blue, his best friend and mentor, Mo (Woody Allen), a third-generation bookseller closing shop, comes to him with a proposition. Or rather, he is the bearer of one from his dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Sharon Stone). Shes interested in having a menage a trois with her best friend, Selima (Sofia Vergara), and asked Mo for advice on hiring a gigolo. Seeing an opportunity for everyone to win, he suggests Fioravante, and then goes about persuading him. Not because Fioravante is a beautiful man. Not because he is young. Rather, because he has experience, and he knows how to treat a woman. There are qualms aplenty, and moral quandaries, but through some smooth talking by Mo, the Fioravantes dawning conviction that he is performing a self-esteem service beyond the carnal, and a look at his own bank book, he embarks on a new and, to his surprise, successful career with Mo as his pimp. Its all going smoothly until Mo pitches Fioravante to a pious but lonely Hassidic widow, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), who hasnt been touched in the two years since her husbands death. The chaste courtship complicates everything, and brings with it Dovi (Liev Schreiber), a bear of a man with the heart of a teenager when it comes to Avigal.
Turturro is entirely believable as the paid object of womens desire. Its the way he carries himself as he assumes the role his client needs to see as smooth seducer or willing plaything. The way he looks her in the eye as though she is the only other person in the world. His first scene with Stone shows some of her best work on screen as a fidgety and skiddish socialite with motives other than physical satisfaction. Shes funny and poignant at the same time while looking every bit as devastatingly gorgeous as Vergara, another socialite looking for simple kicks. Vergara herself is suitably fiery and larger than life in her vertiginous Louboutins and emphatic décolletage. When she turns to Turturro and confides that sometimes she like to be the man, it is not just funny and its also more than a little terrifying. At the other end of the spectrum is Paradis, exuding a single-minded toughness and an ironic sense of humor in a culture where she is expected to be docile, yet never hinting that he character would like to abandon that culture. Avigal is curious, not rebellious, at least not irrevocably, and for all her lack of physical contact or satisfaction in her life, when she sits down to a forbidden dinner with Fioravante, Paradis imbues the boning of a fish with an unmistakable erotic sensuality. As with the massage Avigal got from Fioravante earlier in the film, Paradis has a naked and frank vulnerability even while fully clothed.
Allen plays himself, but with the spontaneity and wit that are his signature as his character cagily negotiates Fioravantes jobs, and his chaotic home life with Othella (Tonya Pinkins) and her three rambunctious African-American boys who call him Pappa Mo. He and Turturro have a lively rapport as they parse the ethics of what they are doing without it seeming like a dialectic.
FADING GIGOLO is a gem of a film, perhaps more endearing because of its negligible imperfections. It is human and humane, exulting the foibles that are part of the human condition, and without ever once depriving anybody of their dignity, even when they are at their most ridiculous.