The florist does not believe women will find him attractive. “I am not a beautiful man,” he says, and he’s right. His eyes are a little out of alignment, he has a big schnozz, and his mouth doesn’t quite close all the way. His friend, a former bookstore owner, disagrees. Although the florist may be getting old, he is trim and confident, and there’s a precision and care in his movements that certain women might find irresistible. He works with his hands for a living, and it shows; as the former bookstore owner says, “You’re disgusting in a very positive way.” So why not call up this woman who’s looking for a ménage-a-trois and see what happens? And why not make a little extra money into the bargain?
John Turturro’s Fading Gigolo is the warmest and sexiest of the recent string of romances starring middle-aged actors whose most glamorous days might be behind them. His film takes place at the beginning of autumn in New York, and the city’s golden glow envelops and dignifies everyone wishing to trade Manhattan’s gifts of privacy and solitude for some provisional human contact.
Turturro, who wrote and directed Fading Gigolo, also plays Fioravanti, the florist turned male prostitute; Woody Allen, acting in a film he hasn’t written or directed for the first time since 2000, plays the bookstore owner turned pimp, and he’s looser and funnier here than he has been in a long time. (At first glance, the movie could pass for a minor Woody Allen trifle, but Turturro likes his characters more and allows them greater freedom.) But as engaging as both men are, this is a film about beautiful women who, as one of them asserts, are meant to be looked at.
Fading Gigolo worships its women like the goddesses they are; few recent films have shown as much sensitivity to women’s bodies, and fewer still have photographed them with such voluptuous tenderness. The perfectly preserved Sharon Stone plays Fioravante’s first client. Sometime after he begins his romance with her, there’s an overhead shot of a bare-breasted Stone that’s like the moment in the Bhagavad Gita when Arjuna gets a glimpse of Krishna in all its splendor; it’s shocking, thrilling, and perhaps too powerful for mere mortals to confront for more than a few seconds. How she must have enjoyed the scene when she’s sitting in her apartment without any pants on, eating dark chocolate and trying to figure out why she’s so into this guy.
Sofia Vergara, who plays her friend, is equally magnificent, mainly because she acts nothing like the screeching, braying Latina cartoon she plays on ABC’s Modern Family. While she’s still an exotic sex fantasy, she has her spike-heeled feet firmly on the ground. Then there’s Avigail (Vanessa Paradis), a Jewish widow who spends an afternoon in Fioravante’s company and also finds herself drawn to him. She matches Fioravante’s quiet confidence, and they begin a most unusual courtship.
The summer blockbusters and superhero epics are already at the gate; see this film before it’s swept away by the tsunami of origin stories, marketing tie-ins, and explosions.