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Crossing Delancey

It's not that there's anything grievously wrong with Crossing Delancey (1988). On the surface it's another pleasant 1980s romantic comedy with two likable leads (Amy Irving and Peter Riegert) maneuvered through the reliable old "single woman in the big city must choose between placid Mr. Right and sexy Mr. Wrong" plot formula. The kind of stencil-cut heartwarmer that excuses the Kenny G-style sax in the musical score. But that's the thing: in Crossing Delancey there's not much beyond the surface. It's lightweight and offers moments of charm, with a stacked-deck script unburdened by anything that might be surprising, distracting, or penetrating.

Irving is Isabelle "Izzy" Grossman, a modern, self-reliant Manhattan woman with her own Upper West Side apartment, a friends-with-benefits situation with a casual partner, and a job she loves at a prestigious bookstore. It's an uptown world of in-store readings, literary soirées, and Isaac Bashevis Singer's phone number in her Rolodex. It's a good life, she enjoys her independence, and she's content as far as we can tell. On the other hand, her doting Lower East Side Jewish grandmother Bubbie (Yiddish theater veteran Reizl Bozyk) believes this is no life for such a pretty thirtysomething girl wasting away. "A dog should live alone," Bubbie says. "Not people." So Bubbie, steeped in old-world Yiddishkeit traditions, hires matchmaker Hannah Mandelbaum (Sylvia Miles, chewing the role to full sitcom excess), a "marriage broker" who'll find her a nice Jewish boy. Enter Riegert as Sam, the earnest, solid pickle vendor, who has been secretly smitten with Izzy for a while and so is determined to be her Blintz Charming. But can he woo her away from the silky, poetry-quoting seductions of a handsome and sophisticated author (Jeroen Krabbé) with more than just his eyes on Izzy?

There are components worth liking in this oy!-meets-girl date movie: A well-realized Manhattan flavor. Amy Irving's lovely heart-shaped face. Peter Riegert's reliable appeal. A musical score headlined by singing sisters trio The Roches (the Kenny G moment is mercifully brief). Otherwise this one simply plays it by the numbers. Joan Micklin Silver directs Susan Sandler's screenplay based on Sandler's stage play. It's perfectly acceptable dinner-theater material, with kindly homilies about life-changing hats, Bubbie's fussing about saving string "and such nice heavy paper," and stakes that rise little higher than the average latke. Every character is underwritten, doing what's required for the plot's easy mechanics and not much more. Complications and sidetracks come dutifully inserted but never give us anything startling. No doubt there are real-life Bubbies ("a hundred and twenty pounds of pure gold, that's me") and Mrs. Mandelbaums in the world; nonetheless, Izzy's kvetchy grandmother and the braying matchmaker come across as broad ethnic characterizations slathered on with a schmaltz-filled brush. All of which is forgivable in this feel-good rom-com with lots of "heart" and "feeling."

But the script errs worse on the side of obviousness when it restricts bright, not disproportionately angsty Izzy to so few options under the writer's lazily coded easy assumptions. Izzy's beloved bookstore society is portrayed as haughty and pretentious, while Bubbie's old-world Jewish culture, represented by Sam, is more honest and decent. One suitor is a smooth-talking cad; the other displays a simple but romantic earnestness. It's too much to ask that Izzy be allowed to expand her choices, so when the predetermined ending inevitably arrives, is she connecting with her ethnic identity (or discovering the virtues of a truer sort of man, or whatever) or does she merely settle? So while Crossing Delancey is mellow and "nice," you're not meshuggener if you come away wondering if it could have offered more beneath its surface. David Hyde Pierce, Rosemary Harris, and Roche sister Suzzy appear in supporting roles.

*          *          *

Warner Home Video's DVD of Crossing Delancey brings the movie home with a flawless print and anamorphic transfer (1.78:1). The DD 2.0 stereo audio gives us nothing to complain about. The only extras are the theatrical trailer and optional English subtitles. Keep-case.

—Mark Bourne

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