Showtime’s American Gigolo Sequel Misunderstands the Movie
American GigoloThe iconic title sequence of ‘The 1980 Erotic Terrorist from Paul Schrader, which made Richard Gere an international star, begins ‘The’. Gere’s high-end, sexual worker Julian Kaye cruises down the Pacific Coast Highway wearing a Mercedes convertible, the top down, and his beautiful hair blowing in the wind. As Blondie’s “Call Me” blares, he gets fitted for a chic suit, allows an older woman to foot the bill for the outfit, drops her off at a respectable-looking home, and zooms on down the road.
American GigoloShowtime’s 2022 drama series, starring executive producer Nikki Toscano and as showrunner (This is the OfferJon Bernthal plays Gere in the role of a montage. The faithful update preserves the song’s authenticity. This sequence is fun and derivative, but it’s just as enjoyable as the series. While the original film captured the zeitgeist of its era, all the series (premiering Sept. 11) has going for it–besides a charismatic performance from its reliably great lead–is nostalgia.
A sequel that revises aspects of Schrader’s story and updates it to the present, this Gigolo begins where its predecessor ended: with Julian in prison for a murder he can’t remember committing. Fifteen years have passed since his conviction, and he doesn’t seem especially unhappy behind bars; he’s grown a mustache, covered his torso in tattoos, and earned a place in the inmates’ hierarchy. Suddenly, Detective Sunday (Rosie O’Donnell, gender-flipping the Hector Elizondo role), the cop who put him away, arrives with the news that a dying hit man has confessed to the murder and DNA has confirmed it. Julian is free–but who set him up? What is the reason?
He begins his half-hearted and meandering search to discover the truth. He tracks down his old friend Lorenzo (an astonishingly miscast Wayne Brady) and a married former lover, Michelle (Gretchen Mol, in a bland variation on Lauren Hutton‘s character in the film), whose husband is a terrifyingly powerful tech billionaire. The flashbacks from the teen years of his life in a posh brothel are interwoven into the narrative. In a boring origin story, we see his mother selling a barely pubescent Julian (Sandrine Hoot) to an imperious madam Olga. This is a better way for the character to work as an enigma.
Jon Bernthal and Wayne Brady, Showtime’s “American Gigolo”
Reviving the economy GigoloIt has been 42 years since it was first released as a straight-forward, but confusingly-plotted, whodunit. This is the fundamental mistake that led to misunderstanding of the film. Released as the revolutionary, hedonistic ’70s were transitioning into the reactionary, materialistic ’80s, it’s a study in ambiguity. Schrader doesn’t just keep the murder mysterious; he also keeps us guessing about Julian’s backstory, motivations, even his sexual orientation. Julian 2.0 is a great movie. Extremely straight.) In a period when gay liberation and feminism were challenging the traditional role of the bedroom, this was an iconic symbol: a handsome male sex worker. (Credited as an “executive consultant,” whatever that means, Schrader has nonetheless said that he had no real involvement in the show, which he always believed was a “terrible idea,” but chose to cooperate rather than “threaten an expensive and futile lawsuit.”)
These lonely pandemic years have seen many efforts to reignite the erotic thriller craze of the ’80s and ’90s. Fatal AttractionAdrian Lyne was the one who returned with this abominable article. Deep Water. Sydney Sweeney was the top Gen Z performer. The Voyeurs. Paramount+ is in the process of developing AttractionThe series stars Lizzy Caplan and Joshua Jackson. These projects are currently in shambles, as 20th-century taboos have become old news. Painting sex workers or queer people as exotic others would be disingenuous now, even if it weren’t offensive.
To strike a nerve, an erotic thriller must capture what is erotic and thrilling and controversial in the present (see: 2021 Cannes Palme d’Or winner TitaneThe film is about a woman who has been sex with a car and finds her family. Instead, Showtime’s GigoloCircles will be held on topics such as child sex traficking and the sexual relationship between teenage boys and women. This is a safe and unambiguously serious topic that can be used to create thematic resonance for a sequel. And if there’s one thing that snuffs out an erotic thriller even faster than nostalgia, it’s the choice to play it safe.
This article appears in TIME, September 12, 2022.
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