Before moving to New York, I, like many people in the world, had a picture of this city drawn by the romanticized portrayals of neurotic creatures of comfort in Woody Allen films. Sadly, that world isn’t very salient in reality. New York City has the same “normal” folks as anywhere else. It’s just that people like Woody Allen heighten aspects of it by exploring and psychoanalyzing the fears and desires of many wonderful characters.
I say, “People like Woody Allen,” meaning people like John Turturro, the mega man of indie film. Turturro explores the Woody Allen universe with the best possible guide, Woody Allen himself, in Fading Gigolo. The premise is very simple. In fact, the very first lines of the film have Allen’s character, Murray, proffering the idea that Fioravante (John Turturro) have sex for money. Murray would find the clients and take a cut. Fioravante, who makes a living doing whatever he can, barely stays afloat in an otherwise meager existence, and this idea slowly starts to sound appealing.
For some reason, Fioravante eases into his new career; being anything the woman needs him to be at that moment. It’s as if he was born to be a Don Juan for hire. Perhaps it’s his experience handling delicate things as a florist, which has given him the ability to tenderly navigate the needs of each client. As business picks up, Murray starts to refer to him as a healer of lonely women. This pitch even works in otherwise unreachable sectors of New York culture, like in the Hasidic community where Murray befriends a widow. When Fioravante lays his hands on the widow, it becomes a profound intimate moment for the both of them. She experiences a deep catharsis having never been touched so tenderly, even by her husband. The whole narrative of her life can be seen in this silent heartbreaking moment, and it punctuates the theme of Fading Gigolo. This brief encounter blossoms into a relationship between the widow and Fioravante to the alarm of the men in the Hasidic community. Without giving too much away, things slowly reach stasi again, and Turturro finds a new lease on life having helped someone free herself of loneliness while being helped to relieve his own.
Fading Gigolo shows us a nostalgic side of New York that is nice to see again in film. It’s charming. It’s not the New York of aimless 20-somethings. It’s an older New York; a simpler one as well, but one in its twilight years as the name Fading Gigolo might partially suggest. Its inhabitants carry baggage, are set in their ways, and have nothing to lose.
With Turturro at the helm as writer/director/lead, the neurotic fanfare ping-ponging from character to character as seen in similar toned films like Crimes and Misdemeanors, Manhattan, or Small Time Crooks is remarkably dampened or at least localized to Murray. This also extends to Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara who approach their roles with a refreshing subtlety not readily apparent in previous roles. All along, typical Woody Allen zingers and one-liners dazzle us as he copes with stewarding his SO’s kids, and negotiates the inner workings of the Hasidic community. Long Tarkovsky shots give us a sense of isolation between certain characters, but Turturro is able to ingrain a sense of humor into these moments as well.
This side of New York will be missed, because it’s not clear how long its relevance will last if the main players are aging and clinging to a bygone era. Whatever does remain, it will be nice to see Turturro continue to depict it.