Like a fair few films boasting “written, directed by and starring…” credentials, Fading Gigolo is a very blatant vanity project, wherein the great John Turturro casts himself as a struggling NYC bookshop employee who turns to prostitution, with his elderly store owner (Woody Allen) acting as his pimp.
It’s an absurd premise, and though Allen’s miscasting is clearly played for laughs, it’s less clear whether Turturro himself is in on the joke of asking us to buy that women find him irresistible (among his clients are Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara; I mean c’mon), particularly when he carries with him memories of the losers and creeps that he’s memorably etched in a handful of roles for the Coen brothers (The Big Lebowski, Barton Fink, O Brother Where Art Thou?) over the years.
Still, Turturro is a cut above other multi-hyphenate narcissists like Eric Schaeffer and Zach Braff, and just as his previous feature Romance & Cigarettes was considerably elevated by a wonderful comic turn from Kate Winslet, Fading Gigolo presents Allen’s funniest acting performance in ages. He’s still doing his stammering/kvetching schtick, but rarely has he seemed more engaged in it.
Otherwise, it’s an innocuous albeit surprisingly downcast farce, which goes down easily and, befitting its title, fades into the ether of memory with equal ease. On the other hand, the pathos that Turturro attempts to wring from a subplot involving Vanessa Paradis as a lonely widow and client of his seems to be spliced in from another movie, and the whole film has a peculiarly late-’90s vibe to it, like something daydreamed after seeing its VHS cover. Which, alas, makes it sound more interesting than it actually is.
Fading Gigolo is in cinemas from Thursday May 1.