Perhaps at some point it will again be possible to write the name Woody Allen and go from there. But after a year marked by artistic highs and controversial lows for the filmmaker, it seems impossible. All you'll find on the docket today is a look at "Fading Gigolo," an amusing indie film that includes some of Allen's finest work as an actor in years.
Written and directed not by Allen but John Turturro, "Fading Gigolo" is something of a tart meditation on romance and morality through the prism of the oldest profession. Artful, insightful and at times very, very funny, much of its wry humor is due to Allen, who co-stars opposite Turturro.
"Gigolo" deals with the Orthodox life, in a literal sense, and the unorthodox, in a more conceptual way, exploring the dynamics between love, sex and emotional need in both. It plays out in New York — a modest Hasidic house in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn and a tony Park Avenue high-rise in Manhattan — and would not have happened if Murray's (Allen) bookstore hadn't folded. Fioravante (Turturro), who's worked there since he was a kid, is taking a job at a local florist. It has left them both cash-strapped.
Much of the contemplation of the gigolo trade emerges in casual conversation as Murray tries to convince Fioravante he is right for the gig. Soon the men are debating Fioravante's sexual appeal, which is as funny as it is astute.
Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara and Vanessa Paradis are the women being romanced, each searching to get beyond cultural or religious constrictions. Liev Schreiber is a hopelessly in love Hasidic policeman dealing with his own set of rules.
The wheels start turning when Murray's beautiful, rich and married dermatologist, Dr. Parker (Stone), asks if he knows where one might procure a suitable man for a menage a trois. She's got an inattentive husband and an adventurous friend Selima (Vergara), who is more than game. Avigal (Paradis), the widow of an esteemed Hasidic rabbi with six kids and sad eyes, factors in a bit later, but she's a game changer.
The movie's fun comes in the teasing repartee between the longtime friends as they try to manage the growing demand for Fioravante's services. It captures Allen at his most charming: rapid-fire hemming and hawing, forever brushing away concerns like lint on a jacket. Though the delivery will feel familiar to anyone who's seen Allen in his many films, there is a surprising lightness and looseness that Turturro brings out in the actor.
Murray's the talker, stealing scene after scene in the process. After a lot of carefully phrased cajoling, he persuades the young widow to consider a session with a "therapeutic masseur." Fioravante's touch unlocks emotions she's buried for years. In return, her emotions unlock something buried in Fioravante.
The more serious things get between Fioravante and the women, the more slapstick it gets between Murray and the Orthodox community. Dovi (Schreiber), with his hopes set on marrying Avigal, has begun tracking her movements, which soon lead him to Murray. Things go downhill from there in sometimes hilarious, sometimes haphazard ways.
This is the fifth film Turturro's directed. Like "Fading," most have been small characters studies wedged into his very busy career in other people's films. The actor has as least eight projects in various stages of development and works with directors as diverse as the Coen brothers and Michael Bay.
I hope he continues to make time for these personal projects. While "Fading Gigolo" periodically threatens to come apart at the seams, it is Turturro's most disciplined and delightful work yet.
"Finding Gigolo" - 2 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for some sexual content, language and brief nudity)
Running time: 1:30
Opens: FridayCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun