Woody Allen has made plenty of great movies, but apart from Annie Hall (1977), I’ve never been taken by him as an actor.
Whining Woody is more of a standup comedian who, playing himself all the time, usually appears as a narrative guide, not unlike a neurotic Shakespearean fool.
In John Turturro’s delicately balanced, gently iconoclastic romantic comedy he gets rather too much screen time doing his usual shtick as Murray, seller of rare books, who manages to persuade his friend Fioravante (Turturro) to become a male prostitute.
If you can live with the wild male fantasy that a couple of posh New York dames such as Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara would be happy to fork out big bucks for the pleasure, you’ll be fine – personally, I nearly found it a bridge too far.
Fortunately for all concerned, Woody’s presence diminishes somewhat as Fioravante becomes more emotionally connected to the beautiful widow Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), which is a relief, for the comic scenes are lame but the romance is tender and insightful.
Avigal, still mourning, is only ready for the touch of Fiaravante’s hands as a masseur, allowing us to feel sympathy for her admirer Dovi (Liev Schrieber) while at the same time knowing that his amour might yet not be crushed.
The location of red-brick, middle-class Brooklyn resembles nothing so much as a cosy Norman Rockwell painting and is in stark contrast to the highrise apartment decorated with contemporary art of married client Dr Parker (Stone), and the subterranean star chamber of the Hassidic rabbis who would judge Murray for his sinful behaviour – it is a running gag that Murray has been pimping Fioavante as a Jew.
The subject of sexual mores, in this case specifically related to strict religious custom, is taken to task without bombast by Turturro (also responsible for the screenplay), who is more interested in bringing to the surface the deep desire that all of us harbour for the comfort of physical embrace and the door it opens to the heart’s fulfilment.
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