Manscape

The male protagonists of 'Fading Gigolo' and 'Locke' do what they gotta do

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Drive time: Tom Hardy in Locke
PHOTO COURTESY OF A24

arts@sfbg.com

FILM It's no wonder John Turturro's Fading Gigolo is already shaping up as one of the year's few indie hits so far — like many such before it, it offers a titillating surface premise belied by the reassuring confirmation of a staid moral outlook beneath. The writer-director plays Fioravante, a middle aged native Brooklynite whose working hours as a florist are shrinking; meanwhile older friend Murray (Woody Allen) faces closing the bookstore his family has operated for three generations. The latter hits upon an unlikely moneymaking scheme when his female dermatologist mentions she and her best friend would pay for the first-time novelty of a three-way. Murray proposes Fioravante provide the meat in their sandwich, and despite all initial resistance, he consents to a trial one-on-one with the client — played by Sharon Stone, so it's not exactly a huge sacrifice. This goes well, as do appointments with her BFF Sofia Vergara, another socialite bombshell in unlikely need of professional erotic assistance.

It's with the addition of a third customer that things get complicated: Fioravante gets referred to Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), whose status as widow of an older Hasidic rabbi requires a suffocating level of propriety. Starved for affection, she lets Fioravante (passing himself off as a Sephardic Jew) touch her ostensibly aching back, which is just as bad as a five-alarm coital orgasm so far as her community elders are concerned. Their clandestine meetings do not escape the vigilant notice of an officious neighborhood patroller (Liev Schreiber) already smitten with Avigal, and whose suspicions of criminal activity are enflamed by jealousy.

It's ironic that while most screen depictions of heterosexual prostitution feature nothing but young, beautiful women servicing men of more realistically variable attractiveness, this ostensible role-reversal keeps the gender inequity just so. Fioravante is a not-so-young, not-particularly handsome man (albeit one made attractive by Turturro's air of gentlemanly gravity here) who gets only hot numbers as Janes — it's still a male fantasy, only now the guy is getting paid. Fading Gigolo's general affability lets it get away with a boatload of cultural and casting stereotypes, not least Vergara as a fiery Latina who might as well have muy caliente tattooed on her voluptuous flesh. For "plain," virtuous contrast we get a glammed-down Paradis, the model-singer-actor who's been France's leading pop pinup for about a quarter-century. Then there's Sharon Stone, playing Sharon Stone, which is to say archly channeling two things: a) Aren't I hotter than ever? and b) I am smarter than the rest of you combined (and hotter too).

There are no unattractive women here — in fact Brooklyn itself seems to have been airbrushed free of clutter, human and otherwise. Even Allen, doing his usual dithery standup shtick, gets a spouse (Tunisian singer M'Barka Ben Taleb) half his age, and who further extends the film's gloss of multiculturalism as harmless exotica. (It wasn't clear to me whether the dark-skinned kids running around were their kids, or grandkids — while Avigal's six children are kept conveniently off screen, lest they spoil the mood of desire.)

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