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story.lead_photo.caption John Turturro and Woody Allen in Fading Gigolo.

It would be nice to credit John Turturro -- a hero of an actor who elevates every film he graces -- with a triumphant directorial turn. Unfortunately, Fading Gigolo is a few degrees shy of that, though it contains enough nuanced grace notes and charm to sustain interest. Turturro's ambitions don't feel large -- while Gigolo is the fourth full-length feature he's written and directed, it feels like a first effort -- and he seems to lean heavily on his mentors (the ghost of his frequent collaborator Spike Lee hovers at his shoulder; Woody Allen co-stars and probably wrote his own dialogue) but the result is a pleasant if forgettable film that tantalizes its audience with the prospect of a world beyond the frame; a world that might be even more interesting than what the director chooses to photograph.

Another character actor might be accused of self-aggrandizing if he chose to cast himself as a much-in-demand Lothario, but Turturro gets away with it because he's so obviously not a good-looking stud. He looks pretty much like the character he plays, a florist named Fioravante who moonlights as a clerk in the Upper West Side rare books store owned by his friend Murray (Allen). There’s an honest ruggedness to Fioravante, though he’s no one’s idea of Hollywood handsome.

Turturro’s looks have led him to be cast as jumpy cartoon villains in You Don’t Mess With the Zohan and The Big Lebowski, but his greater asset is his way of conveying a certain weary working-class gravitas beneath his humility. His intelligent hangdog eyes suggest there’s more to him than we can apprehend at a glance, a quality that allows him to play both deeply flawed and impossibly principled men.

As the movie opens, Fioravante and Murray are packing up the inventory at the bookstore, which is closing. Both are looking for a way to replace the lost revenue stream. As it happens, Murray reports that he recently overheard a conversation between his dermatologist (Sharon Stone) and her girlfriend (Sofia Vergara) about the possibility of arranging a menage a trois if they could find an appropriate male partner. Murray volunteered to help — for $1,000.

And he put forth Fioravante as a candidate.

This isn’t a promising premise, but to its credit the film blows right past it. Fioravante needs the money. They’re all consenting adults. So he shows up, bearing flowers, and charms the dermatologist, who becomes a satisfied customer. And Fioravante and Murray have new careers.

But far more interesting than the flimsy sex farce aspects of the script are the lonely, striving characters who wait in the story’s wings. Murray, besides being another Allen manque, has an interesting domestic situation that never gets explored or even remarked upon, but is taken for granted by the camera and all the characters. And there’s something a little wonderful in that.

And Liev Schreiber shows up as a Shomrim officer — a Jewish community-based policeman — patrolling a Brooklyn Hasidic community while pining away for a young, unworldly widow (Vanessa Paradis) whom Murray, somewhat unwisely, introduces to Fioravante. A bit of slapstick intrudes near the end, but Turturro’s compassionate direction ultimately redeems the film.

And Turturro — who played a very different sort of moonlighting florist in John Slattery’s God’s Pocket — is the still, calm center of it all. He might have done more with a better script — writing is this triple-threat’s least impressive tool — but it’s hard to imagine doing more with what he had. In synopsis, Fading Gigolo might sound a little trashy; in its execution, it’s gentle and sweet.

MovieStyle on 06/13/2014

Print Headline: Fading Gigolo

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