Faded Gigolo — some good news for Woody Allen

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One would not expect to describe a film about a male gigolo as charming or heart-warming but Faded Gigolo is both. John Turturro keeps the tone light, the setting realistic and the characters believable. Set in a New York rarely glimpsed on film, there are cramped, run-down apartments in a Jewish neighborhood that feel lived-in and contrast nicely with the light and art-filled lofts that the wealthy women occupy. A fairy tale of easy money that’s kept grounded with John Turturro’s performance as a “man’s man” but not a “pretty boy”. A charmer who can not only arrange flowers but also knows how to tango and speak a little french, his character would be catnip to many women; wealthy or otherwise!

The incongruity of Woody Allen playing a pimp gives the story some charm and humor. John Turturro wrote, directed and stars in the film. But the initial spark came from a surprising connection between Turturro and Allen: “I was just thinking about something for Woody and me, since we both share the same barber and he always kept telling me, ‘You guys should do something together,’” Turturro says. http://insidemovies.ew.com/2013/12/20/john-turturro-woody-allen-fading-gigolo-poster-premiere/

There are no graphic sex scenes, no dramatic revelations that don’t fit the plot and though there is a romance at the heart of the film, it’s not resolved in an expected way. There are some fabulous costumes worn by Sharon Stone and Sofia Vargas that make for great eye-candy and a gentle tone throughout the film that leaves you smiling and glad you’ve spent time with these characters.

Rating: 3 glasses of wine out of five

Does not pass the Bechdel Test

“Blue Jasmine” — Lovely scent but where’s the substance?

Woody Allen’s latest production was filmed in San Francisco, and what a joy it is, to see our fair city featured on the big screen!  Look, there’s the Mission!  Wow, look at that skyline!  To hear big-name actors referring to Marin and see them walking along the Marina Green is a thrill.  Now, if only the film itself were as thrilling…

Cate Blanchett wears her Chanel suit and pearls like a suit of armor as she strides through the film swilling vodka and Xanax trying to ward off panic attacks.  Just how much compassion you feel for this brittle, broken woman of means who’s lost everything, will color how you view this film.  Jasmine has been a pampered New York socialite who turned a blind eye to her husband’s philandering and nefarious money-making schemes.  More than Blue;  Jasmine is both desperate and damaged.  Forced to move in with her sister in San Francisco, it may as well have been New Orleans for all of the references to “Streetcar Named Desire”!

Jasmine swans about in her haute couture, all the while struggling to survive in a world that she’s had little or no experience of – -the world the rest of us inhabit.  Blanchett plays this “Blanche” character as a fragile bird, her fluttering hands grasping the walls as if to keep from falling and on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  There are two “Stanley” characters in this film, both lovers of Jasmine’s sister, Ginger. Her current beau, Chili, played by Bobby Cannavale, even has a shouty scene wearing a sweat-stained wife-beater t-shirt.

Sally Hawkins gives the  film’s only sympathetic performance as Jasmine’s adopted sister, Ginger.  A working class woman with a heart of gold, Ginger has forgiven her sister’s mean-spirited ways.  She tries to help Jasmine even as Jasmine continues to belittle her and her life.  While the majority of the characters seem like stereotypes with little depth, Ginger is a caring person who’s given substance through her connections with other people.  Like “Stella”, she’s made some poor choices but Sally Hawkins gives her a warmth that stands in strong contrast to the cold, self-centered Jasmine.

As much as I applaud Woody Allen for giving women complex central roles in his films (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/movies/woody-allens-distinctive-female-characters.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0), some of his characters act so neurotic that it’s a challenge to spend cinematic time with them.

Interesting to note: Alec Baldwin played the “Stanley” role in a film version of “Streetcar” and now, here he is, playing another villain to the Blanche character.  He gives a great performance as the sophisticated swindler.  Baldwin and Blanchett have good chemistry as the married, jet-setting New Yorkers; their final scene is one of the best in the entire film.  Blanchett is mesmerizing in the role but by not giving her character a single positive trait, Woody Allen has created a woman to be scorned or pitied but not someone the audience can relate to or root for…

As much as it’s a delight to see San Francisco on the big screen;  Blue Jasmine is full of undeveloped characters and unbelievable premises.  It’s great to see so many stars in interesting roles but some of the performances take away from the narrative and the children are moved about like props on a stage.  In “Streetcar”, Blanche is carted off to a sanitarium while her sister returns to her rough-and-tumble Stanley.   Blue Jasmine repeats that scenario but doesn’t offer even that safety net for our night-blooming Jasmine.

And here’s a great article about the scary possibility of bag lady future: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/15/magazine/the-fear-that-dare-not-speak-its-name.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Rating: 2 shots of vodka–perhaps an expensive one on the rocks with a twist, followed by shot-gut vodka swigged directly from the bottle