'Fading Gigolo' Review: A Woody Allen Comedy with a Dash of Morality

'Fading Gigolo' Review: A Woody Allen Comedy with a Dash of Morality

Woody Allen’s character in the new comedy Fading Gigolo is interchangeable with some of the schleps he’s played in the past.

“Broadway” Danny Rose comes rushing to mind, but with a sense of mischief and looser standards.

Fading Gigolo isn’t an Allen project. The film’s writer/director, John Turturro, uses the Allen archetype to full advantage but adds a sweetness – and morality – often lacking in Allen’s work.

You’ll have to accept a middle-aged man’s transformation into a gigolo, but Turturro uses that to tell a more poignant story about emotions and psychology. In that way alone Fading Gigolo is an improvement over some of Allen’s films, but the movie’s slight storytelling and intermittent laughs are no match for vintage Allen.

The famed comic plays Murray, an old pal of florist Fioravante (Turturro) who comes up with a way for them to make a few extra bucks. He’ll sell Fioravante out as a male prostitute to local lonely woman. They both could use the cash, and while Fioravante initially balks he decides to give it a try.

Turns out he’s a natural, a man comfortable enough in his own skin to provide pleasure with no strings attached. The duo attract some impressive customers, including two insatiable women played by Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara. When Fioravante meets a quiet Hasidic widow named Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), his new line of work collides with some surprising emotions.

Fading Gigolo wants us to accept an incredible premise, that a middle-aged man would become a sexual sensation. Turturro does his best here, but he’s never as charming or sly as the character should be. The film is more concerned with the delicate dance between embracing carnal pleasures and acknowledging the power of love and monogamy.

Sex rarely happens without strings attached, something many movies today forget to acknowledge.

The addition of Liev Schreiber as a Hasidic man with designs on Avigal adds whimsy to the tale but further ramps up the sense of disbelief. His character suggests a second rationale for the story, that the marriage of religion and sexuality doesn’t serve us well.

It’s still a pleasure watching Allen go through his greatest hits, tossing off one liners that sometimes sound like he penned them himself. The more lecherous his character becomes, though, the more the off-screen headlines surrounding the auteur come to mind.

Fading Gigolo remains a high concept comedy searching for an auteur’s touch. The man who might have done the job years ago is on the screen, but Allen’s darker dramatic truths would never match with Turturro’s softer vision.

Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies

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