When you think of John Turturro, the words “sex symbol” don’t exactly spring to mind. The long-established character actor and occasional director has played many things since showing up onscreen in the mid-’80s — crazy, kind, violent, freakish, tender — but “hot” hasn’t been among them. I guess if anyone was going to reveal that side of Turturro it would have to be Turturro, so here’s “Fading Gigolo,” a lovely, minor-key Manhattan absurdity in which the writer-director-star is effortlessly convincing and elegantly touching as a courtly schmo who turns to the sex trade when the economy bottoms out.
The filmmaker knows that the city is full of men like the character he plays, Fioravante. They’re hard-working, middle-age loners who fill the coffee cups and drive the cabs and roll the book stalls back in for the night. They’re getting priced out of 21st-century Manhattan, though, a fact that Fioravante’s face registers with silent grief. Turturro’s New York is right next door to Woody Allen’s, it seems — so close that Allen drops in to play Murray Schwartz, owner of the rare book shop where the hero works when he’s not at his second job arranging flowers.