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Pimp My Friend: Woody Allen and John Turturro Team Up in “Fading Gigolo”

Woody Allen and John Turturro in "Fading Gigolo"

The Toronto International Film Festival has wrapped for another year. As always, film fans lined up in droves to watch movies from the morning to the wee hours of the night, while others clamored for a chance to catch a glimpse of their favorite celebrities on the red carpet or surreptitiously at local bars and restaurants. And among the 288 features presented from September 5 to 15, one of the first to sell out all of its screenings was Fading Gigolo written and directed by John Turturro, starring Woody Allen as the most unlikely would-be pimp in cinematic history.

Although Allen made an uncredited appearance in 2012 in French writer/director Sophie Lellouche's Paris-Manhattan, which tells the story of a young Woody-obsessed pharmacist, this is his first acting role in a film he did not direct since he appeared in Alfonso Arau's Picking Up the Pieces thirteen years ago. Turturro's last feature as director was Passione (2010), although he remains best known for his acting roles in The Big Lebowski (1998) and O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000).
In Turturro's latest work, Allen plays Murray, a bookstore owner faced with the daunting prospect of having to close his business. Turturro plays Fioravante, a middle-age part-time florist and Murray's only employee, who is anything but CQ material, and ostensibly not much of a ladies' man. But after a chance encounter at his dermatologist's office, Murray learns that there are opportunities to be had in the area of compensated copulation, and assumes the role of Fioravante's procurer-- for a small fee, of course. Success ensues, but issues like emotions and morals soon enter the picture, complicating Fioravante's relationships with his clients, as well as Murray. Filling out the supporting cast are Sharon Stone, Sofia Vergara, and Vanessa Paradis as a young orthodox Jewish widow in need of some special attention and tender loving care.
John Turturro in "Fading Gigolo"
Although the film's trailer gives the impression that viewers can expect a romantic comedy with perhaps some bawdy bits thrown in for good measure, the film is more of a sentimental dramedy, offset with an upbeat jazz soundtrack, but Allen's character delivers a sufficient dose of one-liners and kvetching to keep Woody-ites satisfied.
Following its world premiere in Toronto, Fading Gigolo screens next at the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival on September 26, then goes into general release in Denmark and Italy on November 21. Millenium Entertainment has acquired the U.S. rights, but a release date has not yet been set. However, it likely won't be long before Gigolo does the trick and scores with both critics and fans alike, and becomes one of the fall's most popular films.
So, is it too early to predict Oscar nominations? Could Woody end up being a contender? The last time an actor was nominated for playing a would-be pimp was in 1970 when Dustin Hoffman got the nod for his performance as Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy, which also told the story of an unlikely hustler, played by Jon Voight, who was likewise nominated in the Best Actor category that year. Although they lost to John Wayne, Midnight Cowboy came away with the Best Picture Oscar.
So, will we see the two films paired together on a lot of rep cinema double bills in the near future? If nothing else, the great crooner Louis Prima's version of “Just a Gigolo” will soon be rediscovered by a new generation and heard regularly at cocktail bars from Toronto to Tokyo. Who knows, maybe even David Lee Roth's version might hit the charts again.

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