With his long face and hangdog appearance, actor John Turturro is no one's idea of a matinee idol — not even his own — so he raised a lot of eyebrows when he cast himself as the title character in Fading Gigolo. Even more when he cast Woody Allen as his pimp. So it may come as a relief when things don't go as wrong with what turns out to be a surprisingly sweet little dramedy as they might have.
The film begins in an Upper West Side rare books emporium with a going-out-of-business sign in its window. Head clerk Fioravante (Turturro), who also works as a florist, is packing up the shelves as the bookstore's soon-to-be-ex-proprietor, Murray (Allen) chatters away about a conversation he'd overheard between his dermatologist (Sharon Stone) and her friend (Sofia Vergara) about the possibility of arranging a menage-a-trois. They'd asked Murray if he knew an appropriate stud, and he says he responded, "yeah, but it'll cost you a thousand bucks."
To Fioravante's astonishment, Murray caps the story by adding, "I was thinking of you."
Now, with these actors, this qualifies as a gag premise — maybe even one that makes you gag a little — but credit the script with understanding that. Fioravante protests that he's hardly a beautiful man, and rejects the idea out of hand. But without the income from the bookstore, both he and Murray could use need the money, so when the take-charge-but-clearly-skittish dermatologist hesitantly reaffirms her interest, Fioravante decides what the hell.
He shows up with orchids and, because he's nervous, a deadpan conversational manner that charms his customer. Things go well enough that she includes a tip with his fee, a fact that leads Murray to note hopefully that waitresses pool tips and split them.
Now, if this has you thinking "male fantasy on steroids," you're not wrong. But John Turturro, who wrote and directed Fading Gigolo in addition to starring in it, is less concerned with the story's sex-farce potential, than in its gentler, character-centric possibilities. In fact, he's conceived the promised menage-a-trois as a kind of anticlimax — one he builds to with more nuanced stories about, say, Murray's domestic situation with an African-American mom (Tonya Pinkins) and four kids, and about "shomrim" officer Dovi (Liev Schreiber) who patrols Brooklyn for a neighborhood-watch group that works with the NYPD and rabbinical courts. And bringing these disparate threads together is a grieving Hasidic widow (Vanessa Paradis) who becomes the innocent heart of Fading Gigolo when Murray introduces her to Fioravante, not for sex, but because widowhood has pulled her so utterly away from the world.
Turturro's direction owes a little something to Spike Lee, and a lot to Woody Allen, who reportedly had a hand in helping refine the script — certainly his own lines sound as if he's simply riffing in character. Together they succeed in keeping the mood light, even as the filmmaker is gently tugging the plot in other directions — to look at loneliness, and longing, and heartbreak.
These are precisely the sort of things that, if you think about it, you'd expect to find in a film about a gigolo, though perhaps not a film with as much charm and sweetness as Fading Gigolo.
The red-haired, California-based singer-songwriter Brett Dennen has come a long way since 2005, when he gave shy, barefoot solo performances around the release of his first album. Now on his fifth, Smoke and Mirrors, he has not only written more outward-looking songs, but he also presents them with a band in a more commercially viable way.
We'll discuss all that and Brett's life-long love of the Sierra Nevada mountains in our session in front of a World Cafe Live audience.
This interview was originally broadcast on June 25, 2013.
One of Amy Schumer's comedy routines begins with the declaration, "I'm a little sluttier than the average bear. I really am."
Degrees of sluttiness may be hard to define, but Schumer does talk frankly about many subjects — including sex — that can be uncomfortable for people, both in her stand-up act and on her Comedy Central series, Inside Amy Schumer, which is now in its second season.
The show, a mix of stand-up, sketch comedy and interviews, has tackled everything from the oblivious racism of the elderly to the hang-ups women sometimes have about giving and receiving compliments from each other.
And then, yes, there's the sex stuff. (Not for nothing was Schumer's hit 2012 Comedy Central special titled, simply, Mostly Sex Stuff.)
Sex as a subject for Schumer wasn't a conscious decision. She says she was always a sexual girl, but that as she grew older and came into her own, sex was simply the thing she was thinking about and talking about with her girlfriends. She questions how attractive she is and "how slutty" she is — and it's something she goes back and forth on. These thoughts, questions and conversations spilled naturally into her comedy.
"I didn't grow up hearing any women really delving into that side of themselves," she tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross. "So I thought, 'OK, maybe I can be this person for women and for men just to hear the women's perspective in a less apologetic, honest way.' "
In joking so boldly about sex, Schumer is something of a risk taker in comedy, where the subject is still considered man territory.
"I'll get offstage, and the club owner will be like, 'That was a lot about sex,' " she says. "And they would never say that to a male comic."
On her mother
"I have a joke where I say, 'Oh, I'm going to bring [my mom] to a soccer game because I want to show her what boundaries look like.' I just grew up in a house where things weren't that taboo to talk about. And my mom, when she was teaching us to say our different body parts, taught me how to say 'vagina' the same that she taught me how to say 'ear.' I think she wanted us to be able to tell her if we were ever molested without being embarrassed — and so there wasn't this sense of shame."
On uncomfortable sexual experiences
"Most women I know that I'm close to have had a sexual experience that they were really uncomfortable [with]. If it wasn't completely rape, it was something very similar to rape. And so I say it's not all black and white. There's a gray area of rape, and I call it 'grape.' It's the guy you went home with in college, and you said, 'No,' and then he still did it, or maybe you woke up and it was someone you were dating. ...
"There's just so many different things that can happen, so it's not always this, 'Well, you're going to jail and that's it.' There's other stuff where it's like, 'Wow, it would be so much work, and it would be such a life-changer for me to ... press charges or take any action against this person.' But every girl I know has had some experience that is kind of like 'grape.' "
On the oblivious racism of older relatives
"My great-grandma, who was a bootlegger in old New York, Estelle Schumer, she passed away a couple years ago, but her liquor store is still up on 54th Street. ... She was 94 when she died, or 95, and she would ... just say a word. ... She would call black people 'colored,' and it would just make all the blood rush to my head like, 'No, that's not OK.'
"But then you think, 'Well, she's so old,' and then, you know, I would mention that to my friends and then ... I realized ... most people I know have older relatives that will just say something that's just so unacceptable. And then I just thought, 'Well, what's the age? What's the cutoff?' Because if one of my parents said something inappropriate I would stop them."
On how comedy doesn't work everywhere
"People just think that comedy can work anywhere. A lot of times we'll be asked to do a fundraiser or something like that. Or, 'Oh, will you do stand-up at my friend's birthday?' And it just takes so much for a show to be produced well and for stand-up to be successful, or a roast to be successful, but people just don't realize that. They're just like, 'Oh, tell me a joke.' Whenever someone says, 'Oh, just tell me a joke,' like a cab driver or anybody, you learn the lesson over time to never do it. It never works."
Japan says it will kill fewer whales when its seasonal Pacific hunt begins next week and will only observe whales in the Antarctic, after a U.N. court ordered it to stop taking the marine mammals from the Southern Ocean.
Fisheries Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the Pacific catch target would be lowered to about 210 from the current 380. Hayashi said that while the Southern Ocean hunt is suspended this year, Japan would invite "famous scientists from home and abroad" to help devise a new research program that would satisfy the court's demands," according to The New York Times.
Japan, one of only a few countries that continue whaling, has exploited a loophole in the International Whaling Commission's moratorium that allows a limited number of animals to be taken for scientific research. Tokyo, however, has acknowledged that the slaughtered whales - which are caught under the aegis of its Institute of Cetacean Research, in fact end up on Japanese dinner tables.
The Times says that last month's ruling of the International Court of Justice in The Hague against Japan last month "questioned whether the program was really for research, pointing out that it had yielded few scientific results. Japan says its 26-year-old research program is needed to monitor recovering whale populations in the Southern Ocean."
One of the biggest fields ever will assemble in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, for the 118th Boston Marathon on Monday morning, which is Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts. It’s the first Boston Marathon since the bombings near the finish line last April.
This year, 36,000 people will be running, including elite athletes from all around the world. African runners have dominated the Boston Marathon for more than two decades and they are the favorites again this year.
Here & Now’s Alex Ashlock joins host Robin Young with details.
- Alex Ashlock, producer and director for Here & Now who also reports on the Boston Marathon for Here & Now and WBUR. He tweets @aashlock.