Fading Gigolo faded too slowly (a review)

fading-gigolo-poster03

Writer. Director. Lead performer. Possibly the most critical functions in defining how well a movie will do, and often one individual will play more than one role with varying degrees of success. But when a single person plays all three, look out.

For some reason, the movie that results from the triple play rarely seems to work in my experience. And 2013’s Fading Gigolo falls right into that category. (Citizen Kane is one of the few successes I can think of.)

The triple play of Hollywood stalwart John Turturro, Fading Gigolo tells the story of two friends, second-hand bookstore owner Murray (Woody Allen) and florist Fioravante (Turturro), who are both going through some financially tight times. So when Murray’s dermatologist (Sharon Stone) suggests she and her girlfriend (Sofia Vergara) are considering a ménage á trois, Murray immediately thinks about his good looking buddy and suddenly it is American Gigolo for the middle-aged.

Boobs and bums but no climax (Stone, Vergara)

Boobs and bums but no climax (Stone, Vergara)

Oh, and all of this happens in the first two minutes of the movie.

One after another, Murray lines up customers for Fioravante, whose kicked-puppy facial expressions and old-world charm sweep the women off their feet and money out of their wallet. To his credit, Fioravante feels some guilt over taking advantage of the lonely women, but he gets past that with the help of Murray’s nebbish logic.

Life becomes more complicated, however, when he meets the widowed Hassidic Jew Avigal (Vanessa Paradis) and in helping her come out of her shell, finds himself developing feelings for the woman.

Fioravante helps draw Avigal out of herself (Turturro, Paradis)

Fioravante helps draw Avigal out of herself (Turturro, Paradis)

When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I thought it would be a beautifully sweet film about human relationships with the comedic backdrop of Woody Allen as a pimp. And to be sure, there are moments of beauty in the film. But only moments.

Unfortunately, there are no moments of conflict in the film. Nothing against which the characters can really push and grow, with the exception of Avigal, and so the movie feels like the emptiest of emotional calories. You feel good while it is in front of you, but the minute a scene is over, you don’t remember a single moment of it.

Woody Allen still has it, although somewhat sparingly, and there were moments in the story reminiscent of his characters in Bananas or Sleeper, but in some respects, he has just become an older caricature of those characters. Sharon Stone has one or two moments where you can see some vulnerability in her character, but those dissolve pretty quickly. And Sofia Vergara is simply boobs with an accent, as with every role I have ever seen her perform.

A little Hassidic slapstick (Allen, Liev Schrieber)

A little Hassidic slapstick (Allen, Liev Schrieber)

As mentioned earlier, Vanessa Paradis’ Avigal is the only character with an arc in this story, the only character who is transformed, and the actress does a pretty good job with a relatively straightforward character. Unfortunately, against a backdrop of nothing characters, I can’t tell if she did a good job or just a less bad job.

But again, all of my irritation is focused on Turturro and his failings. Fioravante is a sweet man but has all the internal conflict of Michael Landon’s angel character Highway to Heaven, i.e., too good to be true.

As a writer, Turturro missed every opportunity to enrich a flat screenplay. In the writing vernacular, there was no inciting incident (the reason to become a prostitute is weak), no turning points, no crisis and no climax except in the sexual sense.

And because the writer Turturro seemed satisfied with the screenplay, the director Turturro had nothing to offer to improve a moribund story comprised of high-fructose corn syrup.

So much talent. Such a beautiful concept. Such potential for humour and pathos.

Such a let down.

Movie should have worked just on this line alone

Movie should have worked just on this line alone

It’s a sad, sad, sad, sad world

Go to YouTube and search for Sid Caesar.

Right now. Don’t wait.

I’ll still be here when you get back.

Comedy lost another titan today with the passing of Sid Caesar at the age of 91.

A man who defined television sketch comedy as we know it today.

A man who trained and/or gave voice to some of the greatest comedic minds of the 20th century, including Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Mel Tolkein, Danny Simon, Larry Gelbart, Neil Simon and Woody Allen through shows like Caesar’s Hour and Your Show of Shows.

A physical giant, Caesar was capable of playing the brutish husband or the nebbish boyfriend. He brought laughs and tears. And he was the first to let his co-stars shine. Stars like Imogene Coca, Nanette Fabray, Howard Morris and Carl Reiner.

I am confident that all of these people would have influenced my life in one way or another without the likes of Sid Caesar, but he formed the nexus around which my comedic galaxy spun.

Thank you, Sid. Know that you were loved.

 

Related posts:

My Favorite Life

My Creative Journey

Jonathan Winters

 

Safe is not safe

stepoffcliff

Yesterday, I watched the interview of Billy Crystal on The Daily Show and aside from the startling reminder of just how funny Crystal is as he approaches his 65th birthday, I was deeply effected by a story he told.

In his earliest days as a standup, he performed one night at Catch A Rising Star, where he absolutely crushed his audience—20 minutes of pure gold. And yet, when he had dinner later that night with Jack Rollins, the man who discovered Woody Allen and made him a star, Rollins was unimpressed with Crystal’s set. This drove Crystal crazy and when he finally worked up the courage to ask why, Rollins complained that Crystal had played it safe.

Crystal’s entire set, he explained, was material that he knew would be appreciated by his audience, and Rollins acknowledged it was funny. But it also left him cold, as it told him nothing about the man behind the humour. It said nothing about who Crystal was and what he thought about the world.

Never be afraid to bomb, Rollins advised Crystal, and it has been Crystal’s advice to aspiring comics ever since.

Too often, writers of all media and genres face the same challenge. With an eye to being popular (liked) and commercial, we play it safe. We don’t push ourselves, our talents, or our audiences hard enough. We hold back for fear of offending. The results are shelves of books and DVDs that are milquetoast, bland, generic, and channels that are devoid of anything stimulating.

It’s not entirely the writer’s fault. Some of us have agents and managers cautioning us before the next deal. Editors and producers “honing” and “refining” out creativity in the hope of better numbers. But we let them do this to us and to our Art. Playing it safe may get you that next deal, but will it keep the deals coming?

When your work reads like the next writer’s work, which reads like the last writer’s work, why does anyone need to choose you or your idea?

Like them or no, there is no denying the talent that went into shows like The Big Bang Theory (4 physicists and an actress?), Breaking Bad (a meth-cooking school teacher?) and The Big C (a cancer comedy?). Or the book 50 Shades of Grey (mom reads porn?). Or the movie Memento (an inside-out movie?).

None of these were safe choices. None of these was obvious. All of these made people uncomfortable.

Go to the edge with your writing. Stare down the precipice and smile.

Don’t just face your fears; laugh at them and then take a giant step forward into the unknown.

In life, safe is an illusion. In Art, it is a lie.

As an artist, the most dangerous thing you can do is play it safe.

(Image is property of owner and is used here without permission because I like to live dangerously.)

My Creative Journey – Part Two

Picking up from my first realization that my passion might also be a gift, as explained in Part One.

Image

Over the years, I’ve had opportunities to display my creative demons before an audience. An effective little soap opera episode in Grade 12. Geeky science humour in my own magazine. Heart-wrenching poetry following the end of a close friendship that might have been much more.

I worked my way into the magazine world, writing interesting stories about interesting discoveries and advances, but it wasn’t the same. The words poured forth and the story-telling skills improved, but I was always a chronicler of someone else’s story.

Creativity expressed itself in my approach to the story. In seeing a story that no one else saw. In context that was invisible to everyone else. Creativity manifested itself in identifying authors and writers from all walks of life to fill gaps in the magazines. I may not have been the best project manager, but I was definitely the most creative.

As I matured in my jobs, I extended this creativity to everything I did. Looking for effective solutions to seemingly intractable problems. But it wasn’t enough. That voice within me cried out to be heard. And the more I worked—and overworked—to distract it, the louder it screamed. So loudly, that even my wife could hear it.

While sitting in an Orlando hotel bar one night, she finally challenged me and my workaholic tendencies, demanding that we come up with a hobby for me. When pressed, I admitted that I had always felt like I’d been born 30 years too late. That if I could have any miracle in my life, it would be to work on those old sketch comedy shows from the 1950s as a comedy writer. Sid Ceasar’s Show of Shows came to mind. Imagining myself in the writers’ room with Mel Brooks, Larry Gelbart, Woody Allen and Neil Simon.

Neither of us knew how to make that happen, but my wife challenged me to find something at home that would set me up in that direction. The next week, I signed up for my first improv class at Second City.

Although it still wasn’t where I wanted to be—more performance than writing—the improv classes were amazing; therapeutic on a variety of levels. Eventually, though, I stumbled onto their sketch comedy writing program and that’s when I hit my stride. A wonderful instructor, talented zany fellow students.

The words flowed incredibly quickly. Within weeks, I had dozens of sketches and felt like I was making serious headway in my education of what worked and why. If there was a problem with the class, it was that my production vastly outstripped the need. I tried new things. I broke out of my comfort zone. I pushed my limits. My only goal was funny.

As I honed my sketches, I prepared for the reality of rehearsals with actors, when all of this work would really come true; when my efforts became more than an academic exercise. Rehearsals went well. Out actors seemed genuinely grateful to be performing our work. I saw what worked and what didn’t, even in the work of others.

Interestingly, I wasn’t in control of the process and I was okay with that. There’s something to be said for being so far out of your element that you recognize the limitations of your control. I had complete faith in the director and our actors. I believed they too wanted this to work as badly as I did.

And then the day of the performance arrived. Nervous energy ran through my body and I couldn’t sit still. I could barely communicate. There was no fear. Only anticipation and potential validation. Was I funny?

The day we premiered Da Tory Code was easily one of the best days in my life. The audience laughed. Not at everything, which was a valuable lesson, but they laughed at enough to validate my talent.

Image