Arts + Scene » Screens

Not Fade Away

Gigolo can't keep it up, Neighbors delivers




FADING GIGOLO. As an actor, John Turturro is possessed with a kind of vibratory, coiled-spring nervousness that makes his most memorable performances indelible and uniquely his. The Coen brothers have a particular talent for drawing out his unease, and some of the characters he has played for them are, as a result, immortal. I'm thinking especially of his Barton Fink (1991) and the sickly satisfying, all-scene stealing Jesus Quintana in The Big Lebowski (1998). But as a writer/director, Turturro draws from a different well altogether, creating and assembling scenes with a sedate, aloof jazziness that, at least for me, can be a little difficult to get used to.

Fioravante (Turturro), a part-time florist and good-natured, amateur lothario, makes a living, but barely. Ditto his good friend Murray (Woody Allen), who we learn in the opening scene must reluctantly close his family's rare book shop. In the course of the same scene, Murray relates a conversation he had with his sultry, strangely intimate dermatologist (Sharon Stone). She's told Murray that she and a girlfriend are ready to try out a threesome. And that they would, of course, be willing to pay. He, perhaps not surprisingly, geeks out on this for a time before arriving at the conclusion that Fioravante would, for some reason, be a perfect candidate. The would-be gigolo resists, albeit quietly and only for a minute, and then they're in business. Through a network of which we as audience have little knowledge, Murray flourishes in his pimp role, securing wealthy, exclusively attractive clients for Fior. The boys make a tidy profit, the ladies enjoy Fior's company; it's a win-win.

Things get complicated when Murray draws a lonely rabbi's widow, Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), into their affairs. In some misplaced combination of vicarious lust and sympathy, he pitches Fior to her as a kind of therapist. It isn't entirely inaccurate, but his conscious omission of the sex for money part of the arrangement is a sticking point. Regardless, Fior and Avigal develop a mutual affinity, to the detriment of his job performance with other clients. It also raises the ire of Dovi (Liev Schreiber), a perhaps overly enthusiastic neighborhood patrolman — he's not a cop, incidentally, and though he drives a cop-type car and wears a stab-vest, his affiliation is unclear — and in turn the Hasidic elders of said neighborhood.

Fading Gigolo boasts a strong cast (Sofia Vergara and Bob Balaban make appearances), a pretty aesthetic and a strong, down-tempo jazz sense of time and place. Turturro's Fioravante, strong and quiet, deferential when appropriate, makes sense in this context: he's flawed enough to seem real, and he's attractive and aloof enough to seem "other." But beyond those attributes, the movie doesn't really work. The plot feels like it's building toward something until things get complicated with the Hasidim, but after that "climax," whatever little energy it accumulated evaporates. In the end, we're left with a character study that feels more like an actor's exercise than a thoroughly written story. R. 98m.

NEIGHBORS. As I age, I gradually realize that I will probably never outgrow my love of sophomoric humor. I laugh at Wilde and Wilder, but I may always appreciate pratfalls and dick jokes. And I like Neighbors. It makes me laugh. A lot.

Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) are a youngish couple with their hipness and partying shrinking in the rear-view. They buy a house in a nice suburban neighborhood that seems perfect for raising their new baby girl. But then an Animal House-style fraternity moves in next door. At first it's fun; the fraternity brothers seem cool, they all get drunk together. But when Delta Psi refuses to turn the music down, a minor conflict escalates rapidly. The Radners find themselves at war with the fraternity and their charismatic, hedonistic leader Teddy (Zac Efron).

The plot isn't really the thing here, as it serves mainly as a vehicle for a series of set-piece party sequences and sight gags. But to its credit, the script by Andrew J. Cohen and Brendan O'Brien makes some canny observations about the passage of time, the unique identity of today's 30-something parents, significant transitional phases and what happens when the party ends. It also finds time for a great number of jokes about weed, genitalia and breast milk, so fair warning. R. 97m.

— John J. Bennett


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— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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