Monday, August 17, 2015


Last time around, I introduced you to 84 Charing Cross Road, a lovely film about a bookstore. Crossing Delancey  begins where it left off time-wise, though the movies themselves and the characters within them couldn't be more different.

When I was a teenager, my uncle treated my grandmother and me to a matinee performance of an all-Yiddish show starring Molly Picon, an American-born actress who carved a career out of playing Eastern-European woman. I didn’t understand a word of that play, but no matter. I understood that it was a gift to my grandmother; her teenage granddaughter going along for the ride, and happy to do so.

I suppose part of the reason I am fond of Crossing Delancey has to do with my relationship with my grandmother, and the Yiddish theater that all but disappeared with her generation. I never did learn to read, speak or understand Yiddish, save for a few well-worn words and phrases that could be heard in so many Jewish households at the time. But I never outgrew my fondness for the Eastern European dialect my grandmother shared with millions of other immigrants, all of them, long gone now.

Crossing Delancey, starring Amy Irving and Peter Reigert, is one of the nearly forgotten romantic comedies of the 1980s – a shame, because it has a lot to offer. Irving plays Isabelle “Izzy” Grossman; a modern Jewish single who works in a small Manhattan bookshop; a job which is both intellectually stimulating, and enables her to mix and mingle with visiting authors. And while we find her in the middle of a decidedly non-romantic affair with a married man, she has put any thoughts of a serious committed relationship on hold.

Filmed in 1988, shortly before the big book stores and Internet giants took over the book business, the little shop is doing just fine, as is Izzy. But the shopgirl's grandmother (Yiddish theater veteran Reizi Bozyk) is concerned. When she looks at Izzy she sees a young woman who lives alone, and is getting older by the minute. And so she sets out to find her granddaughter a husband, with the help of a local marriage broker named Hannah Mandelbaum (Sylvia Miles).

A so-called "modern woman", Izzy is understandably put out by her grandmother’s insistence that she at least meet the man the matchmaker has chosen for her. But she does so, albeit, unwittingly.

The relationship between Izzy and her ‘bubbie’, and the way they each perceive life and people in general, adds to the charm of this old world-versus new world rom/com, 

Enter Sam Posner (Reigert): a hard-working, average-looking fellow who makes and sells pickles in the city’s predominantly-Jewish lower east side. Despite his charm, Izzy can’t get past the fact that he makes his living selling pickles. When her grandmother persists in her efforts to get the two together, Izzy replies, “Bubbie, listen to me…I don’t want a husband, and if I did, he wouldn’t be a pickle man.”

Finding best–selling author Anton Maes (Jeroen Krabbe) far more interesting, Izzy pursues that relationship, while setting Sam up with one of her single friends.  It’s only when her friend shows an interest in Izzy’s cast-off, that Izzy takes a second look, but by that time, Sam appears to have moved on.

Crossing Delancey is the personification of the old adage, “You can’t judge a book by its cover" —an appropriate analogy for a book shop tale. While Irving received a Golden Globe nomination for her work in the film, some know her only as the woman who in 1989 received a reported $100,000,000 divorce settlement from producer Steven Spielberg. Look beyond the headlines and you’ll see a career that continues to this day.

But Irving is only part of what makes this film worth watching. A tight script and fine supporting cast are two more reasons to visit or revisit this pre-mega bookstore/pre-internet piece. Reigert is well cast as a regular guy, with no movie star looks to derail the tale. He particularly shines during a well-written sequence involving a hat. And though you may not know Jeroen Krabbe by name, chances are you’ll recognize the Dutch actor from one of many roles he has played as a charming but unpleasant and/or evil character in films like The Fugitive and The Prince of Tides

As for the rest of the cast, look closely and you’ll catch David Hyde Pierce in an early role and Susan Sandler, who wrote the screen adaptation and the play on which it is based.

Crossing Delancey would pave the way for such fan favs as When Harry Met Sally and You’ve Got Mail, the latter addressing the aggressive onslaught of the super-sized book store, and its effect on the industry’s independents. While its pace may be a bit slow for those who can’t remember life before the Internet, video games, and films loaded with fast clips and special effects, it marks a turning point, and for that reason alone, is worth watching.
As for its ethnic bent, I point you a famous ad campaign that declared, ”You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s real Jewish rye”. The same can be said of Crossing Delancey. Even if you didn’t grow up with a bubbie, live in New York, are aware that Delaney Street marks the boundaries of its iconic Jewish neighborhood, or recall a time when the only place you could buy a book or meet an author was at small independent bookstore, if you’re old enough to vote, I believe you’ll enjoy this novel approach to romance.