John Turturro’s directorial début sees him star as a flower merchant who’s co-opted into sex work by his ageing friend Murray (Woody Allen).
Turturro, the man best known for his roles with Spike Lee and the Coen Brothers, shows he’s learnt a thing or two from the greats he’s worked for. He wrote the film, reportedly with assistance from pal and co-star Woody Allen, and what results is a smart, witty screenplay ripe to become an indy classic.
The plot is not too far from Spike Lee’s She Hate Me, except instead of a weird subplot about corruption in the drugs industry there’s a weird subplot about orthodox Jews abducting Woody Allen and putting him on trial in a religious court. But Gigolo is better in almost every way. It has a romantic scene revolving around the eating of fish cheeks. What’s not to love about that?
Things do lose their way slightly with the aforementioned Orthodox Jewish subplot. It’s just a bit weird and not particularly believable, but it also gives the film more substance, as it provides a mild critique of religious dogma. The overall package is well-imagined and confidently handled. Turturro knows his own strengths as an actor so keeps his own character sullen and low key, but with a brooding intelligence and likeability beneath the surface. He handles the part well, even if he does seem to be trying too hard to convince us he’s sexy. With its oddity and light humour, the Coens’ influence is clear, with hazy, autumnal cinematography that wouldn’t look out of place in a Spike Lee joint.
This is a sensitive, amusing and self-assured picture that makes for enjoyable if not essential viewing, and is hopefully the first in a promising new phase of Turturro’s career behind the camera.