“Fading Gigolo,” a new film written, directed by and starring John Turturro, Woody Allen and several other top stars, has gotten short shrift from the NYTimes and the Wall Street Journal. Its premise is less funny than shaky: a going out of business bookseller finds an unconventional way for his now unemployed worker/friend to earn some extra money and get out of debt. John Turturro plays the sensitive part/time florist/book stacker who’s coaxed into male prostitution. Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara are the wealthy va-va-voom lovers who crave a menage a trois and apparently can’t find a suitable male without asking Woody Allen for a recommendation. As I said, the premise is shaky.
But the plot thickens as Woody takes the black children of his live-in partner to be de-loused by a lovely Hasidic widow of a rabbi whose books Woody had bought. We first meet Avigal wearing a turban that’s a counterpoint to the black woman’s ethnic headdress in the previous scene - New York is the mecca for cultural compare and contrast. Played by the singularly haunting Vanessa Paradis, Avigal is the one who steps out of the confines of her stereotype to surprise both John Turturro’s character and the audience. We see her meticulously pick out the lice and distinguish between the microscopic egg and the insect as naturally as if she were sorting socks. After Woody suggests that she might be re-energized by a visit with a masseur, she comes to John Turturro’s apartment where he patiently and gently begins to stroke her partially exposed back, whereupon Avigal is flooded with emotion at the recognition of how lonely she has been for a man’s touch. There is no further contact except for the offer of a tissue for her tears.
There is another visit at which she skillfully debones a cooked fish with the same down to earth know-how that she exhibited with the lice. This woman’s simplicity and and earthiness stand in contrast to the expensively clad, extensively made-up twosome of Stone and Vergara who want sex with a man as revenge against a husband or plaything for bored lesbians. When Turturro first comes to Sharon Stone’s elegant NY apartment, he brings a complicated centerpiece inspired by a Japanese master; when he is with Avigal, he brings a single rose.
Turturro is smitten by the realization that sex can often be less intimate than a kiss, a caress or a shared meal. There is such tenderness in this unstated and underplayed connection between these two unlikely soul-mates that the movie acquire a lingering and unexpected depth. It compensates for some of the other excessive shtick which rounds out the plot to contrive an ending and it surely justifies seeing this movie and falling under the spell of unfulfilled desire. As the poet wrote, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter.”
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