Thirty-five years have passed since Crossing Delancey was released in the United States. A low-budget romantic comedy directed by the late Joan Micklin Silver, who died three years ago, it shot into cinematic fame after a succession of favorable reviews.
Screened on the Turner Classic Movies channel recently, this likeable film, set in New York City, is as fresh and endearing as it was on its release date on August 24, 1988.
Far from being a conventional love story, it brings together two single Jewish people from radically different worlds who do not seem meant for each other.
Isabelle Grossman (Amy Irving) works in a Manhattan bookshop and mingles with writers and intellectuals. Sam Posner (Peter Riegert) runs his father’s pickle and condiment shop at Essex and Delancey, in the heart of the Lower East Side, where newly-arrived Jewish immigrants lived and worked from the late 19th century until about the 1950s.
They’re introduced to each other by Isabelle’s doting grandmother, Ida (Reizl Bozyk), and her boisterous friend, the matchmaker Hannah Mandelbaum (Silvia Miles). Ordinarily, Isabelle and Sam probably would never have met, given their sharp class differences.
Isabelle, known as Izzy, is none too pleased by her grandmother’s initiative. “I don’t need that,” she says curtly. Describing herself as a “happy person,” Isabelle thinks she has it all — a rent-controlled apartment, a wonderful job, and plenty of friends. As she pointedly observes, she does not need a man to feel “complete.”
Yet as far as Ida is concerned, Isabelle is in dire need of a husband. “She lives alone in a room like a dog,” she complains in Yiddish-inflected English. “If you’re alone, you’re sick.”
Ida, of course, is exaggerating. Isabelle has a rich social life, and she has her eye on Anton Maes (Jeroen Krabbe), an older published novelist originally from Holland.
Bowing to Ida’s wish, Isabelle agrees to meet Sam, who calls himself a “pretty happy fellow.” He appears amiable, intelligent and stable, but Isabelle rejects his invitation for a date. Being something of a snob, she implicitly looks down on Sam because he’s a simple, down-to-earth pickle purveyor. Needless to say, Ida is disappointed by her granddaughter’s haughty attitude. Scolding Isabelle, Ida says, “You don’t know when you see a good boy.”
Torn by guilt, she arranges to see Sam again. Isabelle’s secret intention is to introduce him to an unmarried friend, but her plan goes awry, much to everyone’s embarrassment and annoyance.
“I’m sorry if I’ve been ambivalent,” Isabelle confesses during a conversation with Sam. “I want to get it right.” By now, Isabelle is no longer averse to Sam’s overtures. She recognizes his fine qualities and wants to get to know him, though she is still under Anton’s spell.
The tentative relationship they form appears plausible, thanks to Susan Sandler’s adept screenplay and an accomplished cast. Irving and Rieger acquit themselves well in restrained but solid performances. Bozyk, an actress from Poland’s pre-war Yiddish theater, is perfect as the archetypal Jewish grandmother. Miles exudes passion, while Krabbe conveys a distinct European sensibility.
Crossing Delancey, though modestly crafted, is empathetic and entertaining and stands the test of time.