Bil’s rating (out of 5): B.5. USA, 2013. Antidote Films, Covert Media. Screenplay by John Turturro. Cinematography by Marco Pontecorvo. Produced by Bill Block, Paul Hanson, Jeffrey Kusama-Hinte. Production Design by Lester Cohen. Costume Design by Donna Zakowska. Film Editing by Simona Paggi. Toronto International Film Festival 2013.
Packing up the last inventory while closing his book store, impending retiree Woody Allen tells friend and sometimes assistant John Turturro that he has stumbled upon a terrific proposition for him: his gorgeous dermatologist (Sharon Stone) wants to do a threesome with her best friend (Sofía Vergara) and is willing to pay top dollar for a man to help them out. Turturro insists that he is not the man for the job, an average guy with average looks, but Allen convinces him that they’re looking for the sexy that’s beneath the surface and not gorgeous showmanship, and that anything is moral when thousands of dollars are involved. After a successful run with Stone on her own, Turturro ends up becoming a Brooklyn phenomenon for bored and frustrated housewives, racking up a client list whose most curious customer is a beautiful rabbi’s widow (Vanessa Paradis) from a strict Hasidic community who has not been touched since her husband’s death. Paradis’ big, searching eyes and direct address go beyond the job for Turturro, and he is deeply affected, which of course means that by the time the threesome happens he will have a revelation of the soul. Of course it’s a silly and unbelievable premise: if Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara as rich Manhattanites wanted a threesome they would not have any trouble getting it for free, and if they are paying because it is discretion they are after, that should have been made clear (as it stands neither of them seems to have any reason to not be so flagrantly fun out in the open). What would help the set-up actually go somewhere is if Turturro was using it as an opportunity to explore an alternate side to human interaction, or exploring his own character’s emotional development, or maybe just mining the possibilities for comedy. The scenes with Stone, who hasn’t been this smooth in delivery or as physically beautiful in years, never actually reveal anything about what it is that he does for these women that’s so great, and his burgeoning affection for Paradis is understandable because of how compelling she is (it’s actually a marvelous performance, her scene when she shows him how to debone a fish is the film’s most indelible moment) but is never actually developed. He begins and ends the film the same man, moody and reticent without ever letting us get past his hard eyes and careful grin, without ever allowing himself to take any enjoyment in the shallow nature of his new enterprise before he is inspired to go for something deeper. Then there’s a weird subplot involving a tribunal among the Hasidim that is meant to be capricious but falls very flat. Allen is the film’s only saving grace besides the appearance of these luscious women, his free and easy dialogue delivery reminding one of the much better New York slice of life films that he has made; the rest is a sluggish mess whose director seems unaware that he has spread misery and unexamined malaise all over what he meant to be something light and funny.