It’s quite easy to be a fan of John Turturro, the actor. He’s turned in a wide range of quality performances since 1980. Most notable on his resume are three films with the Coen Brothers, Miller's Crossing, O Brother Where Art Thou, and Barton Fink, four with Spike Lee including his terrific Do the Right Thing, and even stepping up to the high-tech action genre with a recurring role in three of the Transformer films.
But it’s also one of those warm, fuzzy experiences to watch his growth as a director, especially as he learns from the aforementioned mentors and grows in his craft without being a copycat of any kind. A few years ago, John Turturro directed one of my favorite films of 2005 called Romance and Cigarettes, starring James Gandolfini, Kate Winslet, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Walken, and a whole boatload of stellar talent. What made the film so unusual is Turturro played the whole thing like a musical, with the principals singing over pop tunes to fit the action. It was a cinematic conceit that aided his cast, most of whom you would never consider vocalists, in coming off as being musical in addition to having a lot of fun with the film. It received almost no theatrical release, and your best chance of ever seeing it is to rent, or even buy, a DVD copy. I can’t recommend Romance and Cigarettes highly enough.
It’s easier at the moment to see his latest directorial effort, Fading Giggolo, as it’s currently playing in three theatres around town. Plus there’s the added attraction of extra star power: Turturro’s co-star is Woody Allen. It’s a rare occasion when Allen steps in front of the camera for another director, but when it does happen, as in The Front or Play it Again Sam, it’s well worth seeing. Turturro plays an average Joe named Fioravante. He’s not particular successful in life, although he does do what he seems to like: two days a week in a floral shop, and three days at a bookstore… remember them… owned by Allen. The book store is closing, and Fioravante, as well as Allen’s character, named Murray, find themselves wondering about where the next ten bucks will come from.
Murray knows that Fioravante is likeable, in good shape, and is a big fan of women. So Murray comes up with a plan that makes him the pimp to Fiorante’s gigolo. At this point, you may be thinking “oh… that sounds sleazy,” you’d be wrong. Fioravante struggles with the morality of such an arrangement, but finances being what they are, decides to give it a go. While Fading Gigolo is more of a dramedy as opposed to an outright comedy, it has more than it’s fair share of content to make it a delightful experience. In addition to Turturro and Allen, the cast includes Vanessa Paradis, best known in this country as Johnny Depp’s former partner and mother of his children, Leiv Schreiber, Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, and many of the Turturro family in smaller roles. The characters are charming and great fun to spend time with. It’s sexy, but more importantly, it’s romantic. Turturro handles the direction with skill, assisted by cinematographer Marco Pontecorvo, son of award-winning Italian filmmaker Gilio Pontecorvo. Turturro also infuses the action with good use of excellent jazz tunes, which he no doubt picked up from both Spike Lee and also his friend Woody Allen.
It’s also refreshing to see Woody Allen playing a character that is not so much a version of him, but perhaps a character based on him. He needs to accept acting gigs more often.
I will tell you that even though it’s in three theatres, you’d better hurry, as, unfortunately, it’s not doing lots of business, and many reviewers dislike the film. I’m not among them.
The R-rated Fading Gigolo is now showing at the Esquire and Mariemont Theatres, and at AMC Newport on the Levee.