John Turturro's Hasidic Rom-Com

'Fading Gigolo' Demonstrates a Rare Feel for the Frum World

For His Eyes Only: John Turturro directs and plays the eponymous part in ‘Fading Gigolo.’
Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment
For His Eyes Only: John Turturro directs and plays the eponymous part in ‘Fading Gigolo.’

By Ezra Glinter

Published April 17, 2014, issue of April 25, 2014.
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“Fading Gigolo” isn’t much like either movie, though it does belong to a certain sub-genre of New York romances such as “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” “Annie Hall” and “When Harry Met Sally.” Even within such well-trodden territory, however, Turturro manages to create a memorable film, and to weave his way through a minefield of sentimentality and rom-com clichés.

Indeed, despite the transgressive nature of the central relationship, this is no “hasidic widows gone wild.” Instead, it’s the story of two lonely people who find solace in each other’s company, if only for a little while. The most romantic scene in the movie is perhaps when Fioravante and Avigail share a simple meal of fish at Fioravante’s apartment. When Avigal asks if he’s isn’t lonely, living alone, Fioravante answers, “You get used to it.”

It also helps that Turturro has a rare feel for the hasidic world, and for the Jewish community in general. The set design and costuming are meticulously researched, as are more subtle social interactions. When Murray is packed into a van and dragged in front of a rabbinical court to explain his role in the affair, he calls his lawyer, Sol (Bob Balaban), who shows up wearing a suit and baseball cap. Sol knows, like any lapsed Yeshiva of Flatbush graduate would, that an informal head covering is better than none at all.

Ultimately, however, the hasidim in “Fading Gigolo” are re-imagined with the rest of the city to serve the needs of movie’s sepia-toned atmosphere. Here the community is nosy and a little repressive, but also warm and forgiving. When Dovi (Liev Schreiber), a member of the Williamsburg Shomrim, becomes suspicious of Avigail, his snooping seems like modesty squad intimidation, but turns out to be garden variety jealousy. He even makes his own well-intentioned bid for Avigail’s affections, apologizing that he doesn’t come from a “rebbishe” family.

“Fading Gigolo” isn’t all melancholy and sorrow — for all of the movie’s pathos, there’s a lot of humor, as well. Fioravante’s new career provides plenty of light moments, especially for the wisecracking Murray. (He explains to his stepchildren: “Gigolo — it’s in the music business. There’s the music, the lyrics and the gigolo.”) But in the end this charming film will leave you feeling a little wistful, and perhaps in the mood for a leaf-strewn walk through Central Park. If Hollywood magic holds true, you might even run into the future love of your life.

Ezra Glinter is the deputy arts editor of the Forward. Follow him on Twitter @EzraG


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