MRR Review: "Fading Gigolo"

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Fioravante decides to become a professional Don Juan as a way of making money to help his cash-strapped friend, Murray. With Murray acting as his "manager", the duo quickly finds themselves caught up in the crosscurrents of love and money.
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Rating: R
Length: 90 minutes
Release Date: January 16, 2014
Directed by: John Turturro
Genre: Comedy

Talented actor John Turturro goes behind the camera to take an amusing look at the world's oldest profession in "Fading Gigolo," a sweet comedy about a man who decides to become a companion to lonely ladies for cash. Turturro wrote and directed the film, which deals with a controversial subject in a low-key and sympathetic manner. He also stars as the main character, who finds himself in a strange new world once he begins to offer his services to a variety of female clients. This is the fifth film directed by Turturro, and audiences are certain to enjoy his unique take on the topic.

When a struggling bookstore owner named Murray, played by Woody Allen, has to close his shop, he starts looking for a way to stay afloat financially. After Murray's beautiful dermatologist, played by Sharon Stone, mentions she is looking for a man with whom she and a friend can have a ménage à trois, he comes up with a bold and outrageous idea. Murray decides that he will set up a shy florist he knows named Floravante as a gigolo. Turturro plays Floravante and gives an understated performance that focuses on the character's sensitivity and charm.

Although Floravante is rather reluctant to accept Murray's offer, he is also strapped for cash and decides that becoming a gigolo is the best way to solve his money problems. The two men enter into a financial partnership that soon becomes very lucrative. Floravante discovers, however, that he is not very good at having relationships that are only physical. He becomes emotionally involved with his clients due to his sympathetic nature. This development gives the film a depth that goes far beyond simply playing the subject for laughs.

The early part of the film focuses on the relationship between Murray and Floravante and provides the audience with plenty of humorous scenes. The hilarious verbal exchanges between Allen and Turturro show the sparkling wit of Turturro as a screenwriter. Allen does most of the talking, and his perfect comic timing is a joy to watch. Murray has an amusing answer for every objection that Floravante raises about the scheme, and Allen gives one of his best performances in many years.

As an actor himself, Turturro understands how to direct actors in a way that gives them a chance to shine. All of the performances come to life in the film, and Turturro's direction ensures the characterizations are on target. Turturro also gives the movie a jazz score that heightens the intensity of many of the film's scenes.

The film's plot becomes more complex when Floravante gets involved with the widow of an Orthodox rabbi. The woman, Avigal, played by Vanessa Paradis, stirs up deep feelings in Floravante and also unintentionally exposes him to danger. Avigal is being watched by another member of the Jewish Orthodox community named Dovi, played by Liev Schreiber. Dovi worships Avigal from afar and is not happy when he discovers the nature of Murray and Floravante's business.

Turturro's skill in tackling the subject matter with a light hand is particularly impressive during this section of the film. He keeps the film moving along at a brisk pace and shows a deft touch in switching between comedic and dramatic scenes. The cinematography is also one of the high points of the film, as the movie showcases various New York City neighborhoods.

The movie plays out on a note of wistfulness, but still manages to leave audiences feeling upbeat when they leave the theater. The story seems to suggest that romance and a connection to others are everywhere as long as one knows where to look for them. The fact that the movie uses humor to convey this heartfelt message makes the film all the more memorable.

John Turturro is one of the most interesting directors in the film industry. He does not make blockbusters, but small films that revolve around interesting characters and unusual situations. "Fading Gigolo" is one of his best efforts and allows him to highlight his versatility. Writing, directing and acting in a movie is difficult to pull off, but with this film, Turturro proves he is up to the challenge.

"Fading Gigolo" also proves that a talented filmmaker can take controversial material and handle it with a delicate touch. The movie generates a lot of belly laughs, but also keeps the audience emotionally engaged with the characters. Anyone who loves to watch talented actors playing flawed but fascinating people will want to see this extraordinary film.