⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Rated: R for some sexual content, language and brief nudity
There’s an unforced charm to “Fading Gigolo” that dares you to quibble about its crazy plot. In a case of monumentally unlikely casting, John Turturro plays a New York City florist turned high-priced escort, and Woody Allen plays his quick-talking pimp. Seriously. The actors make a genial comedy team, and their enterprise, with the gentle Turturro treating his clients like delicate blossoms, feels romantic rather than sordid. Allen is the money-minded brains of the operation, eternally looking for ways to squeeze a higher percentage out of his friend’s fees. Turturro is the irresistible soul, a gentleman gigolo.
Turturro, who also wrote and directs with assurance, places his story in a richly romanticized New York. It’s a place of powerful ethnic and economic divisions where love, if not the solution to every rift, is at least a temporary balm. Turturro falls for his platonic, massage-only client, an ultra-Orthodox widow (Vanessa Paradis) adored from afar by a protective neighborhood watch captain (Liev Schreiber). Complications arise as Turturro juggles his emotional obligations with the demands of kinky cougars Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara, who want him for a threesome. Meanwhile, Allen, acting better than he has in a decade, is hauled before a rabbinical court for his crimes against morality. The tone swoops from touching drama to hambone commedia dell’arte without setting a foot wrong. Somewhere up there, Cupid is smiling.
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for drug use, some sexuality and language
Theater: St. Anthony Main
Kristen Wiig is on her way to being the new McConaughey, a pigeonholed actor who wows us with unexpected range. The latest evidence is her stellar work in “Hateship Loveship,” an ensemble relationship drama based on a short story by Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro.
Wiig plays a maid whose new employer (Nick Nolte) is a prosperous small-town lawyer raising his teen granddaughter (Hailee Steinfeld). The girl’s reprobate father (Guy Pearce) has been relegated to the fringes of her life following the accident in which he killed her mother. Wiig gives a delicate, muted performance as a workaday drudge whose drab exterior conceals a deep longing and faith in pure love. Steinfeld plays along when her mean girlfriend e-mails sham messages from her handsome absentee dad to the wallflower housekeeper. As the correspondence becomes cruelly florid and romantic, Steinfeld pulls out of the prank, but the die is already cast, setting up Wiig for crushing humiliation.
The film draws out the suspense deliberately. There’s no pessimism in Munro’s story, however, and the tangled connections among all of the characters resolve in a surprisingly romantic and resilient spirit. Wiig’s underplaying, a repressed otherworldly Sissy Spacek sort of thing, has its moments of humor, but this proud, simple woman is never for an instant comic. She’s the steadfast guiding spirit of a touching, against-all-odds love story.
Dancing in Jaffa
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: Suitable for all audiences. In English and subtitled Arabic and Hebrew.
Getting fifth-grade boys and girls to dance together is tough. Eleven-year-olds are at their most cootie-conscious and anxious. It’s tougher still when the students learning to perform and compete together are a diverse mix of Palestinian Israelis and Israeli Jews.
That’s the challenge that ballroom dance champion Pierre Dulaine took on when he brought his Dancing Classrooms program to Jaffa, the city of his birth. When boys and girls dance together, Dulaine’s theory goes, they will see a person, not a vilified abstraction. “What I’m asking them to do,” he says, “is dance with the enemy.”
The experiment in dance diplomacy is even more difficult than he imagined. Many Muslim parents opt out, loath to violate religious traditions of gender segregation. The Jewish parents on-screen don’t raise spoken objections. The shocked expressions on their faces when they learn that their children will be partnering with Palestinians say it all. Still, Dulaine persists, enforcing good form and proper manners by swatting malcontent kids with the tail of his necktie.
A fey, theatrical fellow, Dulaine is a natural camera subject, and the children respond warmly to his attention — eventually. Whether the cross-cultural friendships begun here will stand the test of time is anyone’s guess, but it’s a start.