Who hasn’t loved John Turturro as an actor? He was Jesus in The Big Lebowski. He was poker player Joey Knish in Rounders; the nerdy Herbie Stempel in Quiz Show. Now he’s starring as a florist/ gigolo in a movie he wrote and directed. It also has Woody Allen, and it feels like it’s trying hard for a Woody Allen feel. We see lots of nostalgic New York shots. There are lots of jazz tunes on the soundtrack. And a large segment of the movie makes fun of the Hassidic Jews in Brooklyn. Perhaps that’s why Allen jumped in to star in a movie he didn’t write/direct. Last time I remember him doing that was Picking up the Pieces in 2000, and a decade before that, in a horrible Bette Midler movie called Scenes from a Mall. I remember a magazine at the time said Allen did that movie because he was paid a million dollars. I’m guessing this indie picture probably paid him less than that, and at times, it seems like a good investment.
He and Turturro have nice chemistry, and Allen has a few good lines. The longer the movie goes on, the harder he is to take. I’m also not sure I understand, or buy, the side story of him living with a much younger black woman and all her kids.
Allen runs a used book store that’s closing. As he laments his situation to Fioravante (Turturro), who has bills piling up, they come up with a plan. Allen will be his pimp, and he’ll be a male escort. We’ll start first with the unrealistic premise – that Turturo, not the best looking man around, would be hired as a “male escort” just because he is sensitive and can talk to women. There’s also the fact that he’s not hired by men, but gorgeous women (played by Sofia Vergara and Sharon Stone). This comes about when Murray (Allen) is talking to his dermatologist (just typing that line made me laugh). She wants a ménage a trois, and since Allen didn’t write the movie, it’s not with him. Stone wants to sample the merchandise first, so Fioravante pays her a visit. Even if you find that situation plausible, I’m never quite sure how they get so many clients so fast. We see this montage of Murray approaching women at various locations and handing out his card. I’m just not sure why they end up calling.
There’s a great scene with the guys coming up with fake names. One of them comes up with “John Barricuda.” Those scenes in movies always work, as does the first 40 minutes.
The plot thickens when Murray recognizes the woman picking lice out of his step-childrens hair. Avigail (Vanessa Paradis, the French singer/actress) is a widow, and seems rather lonely. Before her character opens up, it’s really odd watching her on screen. Her depression was…just not working.
A neighbor named Dovi, who has feelings for Avigail, starts following her around. He’s played by Liev Schreiber, who is proving himself to be quite versatile. He played a Russian in Salt, a mullet-haired hockey thug in Goon, and now a Hassidic Jew in this. Schreiber is always amusing to watch on screen.
There are some interesting character studies going on here. Seeing a widow who has probably never really experience romance, start to come out of her shell. Watching how Turturro works his charm was interesting. It seemed believable that a quiet guy who is good with his hands (no pun intended), could actually pull this off. The movie just needed a few more jokes and humorous scenarios in here; or characters that we cared more about. Considering Turturro’s previous body of work behind the camera, this isn’t his strong suit.
Turturro was probably thrilled to get Allen to do this, but more credit should go to Marco Pontecorvo, the cinematographer. He shot this film beautifully.
I wanted to like this movie more. It’s certainly better than if you did this premise with Adam Sandler or Rob Schneider as the pimp (wait, they already did that, didn’t they?).
It never bored me, but it did disappoint. Once you leave the theatre you’ll completely forget the movie.
A handful of enjoyable scenes that come to mind: Julius Erving dunking over Bill Walton; comparing a gigolo to a butcher; and of course, the ménage a trois. Vergaris face during that cracks me up (and she’s so much less annoying than she is in interviews or on Modern Family).
It’s just a shame that as you watch this, you realize you’re not emotionally invested in any of these characters.
It gets 2 stars out of 5.