A sex comedic film featuring Woody Allen and Sharon Stone, and which hints early on at a ménage-a-trois, holds out tantalising possibilities for adult entertainment. Except that Fading Gigolo, for all its occasional one-liners and the suggestion of sensual sizzle, never really, um, rises to the occasion.
One of its manifest pitfalls lies in its flawed character delineation. It’s hard to fathom why women as stunning as Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara would need any help in getting any man in bed, much less pay Shylockian sums of money to Allen, a down-and-out New York hustler, to line up an unlikely Casanova. In any case, Stone is miscast as a hesitant, tentative adulteress, as anyone who’s seen her uncross her legs in Basic Instinct or give in to steamy sexual self-gratification in Sliver, will testify.
And, for another, director John Torturro (who also plays the ‘toy-boy’ lead role) is so evidently wrapped up in fleshing out Allen’s character, he does little justice to his own.
By the film’s end, we know rather more about the many-layered, quixotic dysfunctions and idiosyncrasies of Allen’s character, the Hasidic Jew from Brooklyn who conjures up a gigolo scheme to set up an income stream, than about the florist Fioravante, the man of few words who makes an unconvincing Don Juan.
Some of this is born of Turturro’s keenness to ‘out-Allen Allen’ with his film. His admiration for his acclaimed cinematic technique is evident in every opening frame and jazz score. Intended as a tribute , the cinematic imitation induces a déjà vu feeling and cramps the space for artistic creativity. In some parts, though, Fading Gigolo has an endearing arthouse feel to it. But this also sets up a tonal mismatch between Allen’s in-your-face goofiness and the attempt to invest the Fioravante character with gravitas and goodness of heart.
In the end, however, it is that human side of Turturro’s self-effacing character that carries the film through. In the line of his new-found duty, Fioravante briefly enters the life of Avigal, a cloistered, sexually repressed widow with six kids. And although they don’t really get physically intimate (except for a back rub and a passionate kiss), the briefly explored tenderness between them provides the film with one of its few bright sparks. The transformation that Vanessa Paradis portrays, as she emerges from her orthodox Hasidic cocoon and blossoms under Fioravante’s platonic attention, has a certain inspirational quality to it.
But along the way, the sex-comedy narrative of Fading Gigolo becomes flaccid; there isn’t much sex in the film, and even less comedy. In one scene, Avigal, trying to get a sense of why Fioravante pimps himself, tells him: “You make magic for lonely women.”
That encapsulates the overriding emotion in the film, which is characterised not by lust, but by a haunting loneliness. But in the absence of passion, what we’re left with is an unsatisfying memory of how good the quirky Woody Allen style of storytelling was, and how both he and his art form stand vastly diminished over the decades.
Genre: Adult comedy
Director: John Turturro
Cast: Woody Allen, John Turturro, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, Vanessa Paradis, Liev Schreiber
Storyline: A New York hustler pimps his friend, a reluctant and unlikely Casanova, for money and (ostensibly) for laughs.
Bottomline: A goofy-tender sex comedy with little sex and even less comedy