Fading Gigolo is about a sweet natured man who has some financial trouble and ends up prostituting himself to lonely rich women to make ends meet. As I was watching it I was surprised that it didn't remind me of other films about people who are forced to enter uncharted territory late in life, but it really didn't. No, those films tend to put more emphasis on how awkward it can be to make big transitions when you are set in your ways, but the titular gigolo doesn't seem to hit many speed bumps once he starts shacking up with married women.
I was also surprised that it didn't remind of Woody Allen's movies, even though Woody Allen is in the movie as our protagonist's pimp. But Allen has a very specific tone, and Fading Gigolo doesn't really try to imitate it.
Finally, I was surprised that it didn't remind me of Romance and Cigarettes, another film that John Turturro wrote and directed, but that film was energetic and messy where this is subdued.
No, the film this reminded me of was Get Rich or Die Trying, 50 Cent's semi-autobiographical big screen debut. It wasn't because they had similar stories, or a similar tone, or any of the things that usually connect two movies in my mind. It's because they both struck me as vanity projects where the egos involved weighted down the ship way more than they should have.
Get Rich is an ode to how great Fifty is, even though he is manifestly not great in the movie. The first song Fifty records is so great that it blows the producer's mind, even though I would assume that the producer has heard a lot of other amateur songs of a similarly middling quality. Once it's finished Fifty's sidekick takes the song to a club, where the DJ drops everything to play it, because it's better than any song he has in his record bins. After a gang leader warns the DJ that if he doesn't put another song on he'll get killed on the spot, the DJ thinks for a second and keeps playing 50's first jam because he loves it more than he loves life itself. It's the kind of movie where someone can't even try to kill Fifty without having to tell him how great he is first. The rampant egomania sneaks into almost every scene, turning what would have been a slight movie anyway into something unbearable.
Even though it's tone is a lot less hyperbolic, Fading Gigolo has a similar problem. It was never going to be a stunning movie; there isn't enough meat on the story's bones for that. But John Turturro's ego trips up the movie over and over again, souring what could have been passable. The storyline would make some sense if the women he was romancing were your classic bored housewife type, but he cast Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara as his conquests - two women who are infamous for their beauty. I can sort of see these women paying for sex (being in control does have some advantages), and I can see them having sex with him (he's not hideous), but why would these women pay this average looking man thousands of dollars for sex? It doesn't pass a smell test.
Even more egregious, because Turturro isn't classically handsome you would assume that he would have to have some sort of sexual magnetism to make him appealing to these women, but he plays it far too subdued for that to come across. It's a shame that he directed himself, because he might have given a better performance if he had gotten more independent feedback on how he was coming across.
There's nothing wrong with the individual building blocks Turturro had to work with - sex farces tend to be fun, and his co-stars delivered the goods. But instead the film never gels, and it's obviously because he made a few too many decisions that were flattering to him but didn't make artistic sense for the movie. (For one, it should have been more farcical, but the movie takes it's gigolo too seriously for it's own good.) It's a shame, because Romance and Cigarettes has stayed fresh in my mind ever since I first saw it, and I can already feel Fading Gigolo fading from my memory.
Winner: the Cat