February 14, 2013

Crossing Delancey

I open my review of my favorite romantic comedy ever, the breezy Crossing Delancey (1988), with a brief exchange between the main character, Izzy (played by Amy Irving), and two of her friends (played by Deborah Offner and Suzzy Roche).

Karen: "I have a friend who thinks it's all a myth."

Izzy: "What?"

Karen: "The appalling lack of desirable single available men."

Marilyn: "Oh yeah? Tell your friend to give me a call."

1988 is deep in the era of the post-liberated woman: career-minded, but starting to feel a nagging lack in her life that may or may not be compensated for by marriage. Crossing Delancey plays with that tension in unassuming ways, allowing its characters to be human beings, not poster children for any given movement or set of beliefs. 

The film, which was directed by Joan Micklin Silver, comes from Susan Sandler's play, which Sandler adapted for the screen. It's a unique romantic comedy because it doesn't congeal in the crevasses of cliches. Instead, Sandler and Silver weave a rich little slice of life about a modern woman--Izzy, a 30-something New Yorker who's the event coordinator at a small, independent bookstore in the city. Izzy is single, and at least pretending to be happy about it. But she's also a bit deluded. The romantic in her awakens to the superficial poetics of a snooty European writer named Anton Maes (Jeroen Krabbe), who pens a gooey inscription onto the first page of his latest novel at a book signing she organized, and then tells her, "You can bill that to me." This little bit of attention from a guy who so embodies all of Izzy's ideals, means far more to Izzy than it does to the author. 

Izzy is proud of her life and the little circle she's eked out, rubbing elbows with the New York literati. Her grandmother (scene-snatcher Reizl Bozyk), the stereotypical feisty Jewish matriarch, isn't so satisfied with Izzy's lackluster love life, so she enlists the help of a trashy marriage broker (played by Sylvia Miles, with obnoxious reverie), and is set up with Sam (Peter Riegert), a down-to-earth guy who, gasp, may not have a college education, and who, double-gasp, sells pickles. Sam is charming, deep, and kind, but Izzy can't get past her snobbish distaste for his vocation and her gaga infatuation with the smug novelist who's using her.

Between her myriad friends, Izzy plays witness to just about every phase in the life of a modern yuppie woman. One is married, one is a new mom, several, like Izzy, are single and looking around to see who's out there. She's a bit jaded--none of her friends is exactly content--and afraid that her comfortable life might be compromised if the wrong guy comes along. So Sam, who doesn't fit the profile she'd figured in advance, is rebuffed. But he persists. And we pretty much know what's going to happen there, but it's the joy of the dance, the pursuit, that keeps Crossing Delancey interesting, not to mention the mosaic of characters who travel in and out of Izzy's life. 

Amy Irving is equal parts girl-next-door and icy stage queen, which might explain why she has had trouble finding the right parts in movies (although she's wonderful in a lot things, including Bossa Nova and Carrie). But here, she comes into her own: she's likeable, poised, smart, vulnerable, and mysterious: snooty enough to be a halfway literary snob, and literate enough to be cautiously wise and compassionate. Peter Riegert is exceedinly likable and a good modern-world Casanova with an old soul, and Bozyk is appropriately giddy, pushy, and old-fashioned, as the grandmother.

Crossing Delancey is a subtle entertainment, one for which you acquire an affection. It doesn't go for the continual button-pushing maneuvers of most comedies, but it has a lot of wonderful understated qualities that make it worthwhile, and even when it seems overly simple, it's charming fare. With George Martin, John Bedford Lloyd, Claudia Silver, David Hyde Pierce, Faye Grant, and Rosemary Harris (who's hysterical as an eccentric author who utters the film's funniest line, "Your hair! It's going to take over the planet!"). 97 min.

1 comment:

Li said...

I watched this one last year on your suggestion. I was pleasantly surprised as I don't usually like most things close to the "chick flick" genre