Warner Bros. // 1988 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // February 6th, 2007
A funny movie about getting serious.
In 1988 playwright Susan Sandler adapted her own play into this modern fairy tale about finding love in Manhattan's Lower East Side.
The striking Isabelle (Amy Irving, Alias) is a single woman in her 30s who lives on the Lower East Side. She claims to enjoy her solitary existence, though her grandmother, Bubbie (Reizl Bozyk), still insists on finding her a nice, single Jewish man to settle down with. Working through a matchmaker, Bubbie arranges a date between her granddaughter and Sam (Peter Riegert, Animal House), a local pickle monger. Isabelle finds the laconic Sam to be a nice, but can't imagine dating a man who reeks of pickles, and attempts to rebuff him gently.
Meanwhile, Isabelle becomes smitten with Anton (Jeroen Krabbé, Ocean's Twelve), a swarthy local writer. Though Anton is alternately lecherous and oblivious to Isabelle's affections, he still seems more alluring than the reliable and loyal pickle man. Who will Isabelle choose?
Crossing Delancey is a conventional romantic comedy: a plucky female is presented with two men -- one sweet yet unexciting, the other crude but magnetic. We in the audience are able to telegraph almost every plot development, because we have seen this film several times before. Additionally, the characters show little depth or individual characteristics that would make us particularly interested in their story. Perhaps due to its comfortable conventionality, the film did moderately well upon its release twenty years ago. However, it has slipped into obscurity during the interim, largely for the same reason.
Despite all this, I have to say -- at the risk of seeming contradictory -- Crossing Delancey is a reliably pleasing romantic comedy and unlikely to find any detractors among those who watch it. To a certain extent I am baffled at how I could have found this film so endearing. The plot is maddeningly conventional, the main characters contrived for dramatic purposes, and the supporting characters (Bubbie in particular) cloying stereotypes.
Yet somehow, while watching the film, I was able to unthinkingly enjoy Isabelle's predicament. Most of the credit goes to the superb cast. Amy Irving, who may be more famous for being the first Mrs. Steven Spielberg than for any of her acting credits, gives a heartfelt performance here. Irving deserves particular praise because it takes an especially likeable actress not to have us turn against Isabelle after her character's gentle rebuffs of Sam turn nasty. Additionally, Peter Riegert, who has got to be one of the most nondescript actors in Hollywood, infuses his character's few lines with a poise and stoicism that made me actually root for him over his pretentious rival. And while Krabbé is a fine actor, and delivers a fine performance, he seems to so naturally project the self-importance of a European novelist that it seems like he's not acting at all.
Of course, like all competent romantic comedies, Crossing Delancey puts roadblocks up that prevent our two leads from coming together. While most use some sort of misunderstanding or lack of communication to keep potential lovers apart, in this case the most prominent factor keeping Isabelle from falling for Sam is his blue-collar job and the stench of pickles it entails. While the issue is hardly explored on a deep level, there is something refreshing about a romantic comedy that embeds class issues this deep into its storyline.
That said, neither Isabelle nor Sam ever discuss the issue at length -- Sam never discusses anything at length -- and their failure to adequately communicate on this topic, or any for that matter, does leave the film somewhat hollow at its center. It's not so much that I don't believe Isabelle has resolved her qualms about dating a pickle man -- I don't -- it's that there are no moments in the film where we ever see the two characters truly engaged. Sure, Sam fawns over Isabelle, but does he really see any substance behind her fetching appearance and insensitive snubs? And Sam is definitely a nicer fellow than Anton, but what, other than general amiability, does Isabelle see in him? I can't answer these questions, and I doubt anyone else who's seen the film can, either.
Ultimately, Crossing Delancey is an enjoyable romantic comedy that will be remembered more fondly without deep reflection, because the more I think about the film the more I question whether I really should be recommending it at all.
Crossing Delancey seems to be a perfunctory release from Warner Bros., as the DVD comes with little fanfare, and no extras except for a theatrical trailer. I suppose fans will appreciate the film just getting a release at all, and the satisfactory picture and sound on the disc should suit them just fine.
Crossing Delancey is the cinematic equivalent of eating out at a chain restaurant. While I do enjoy the Olive Garden on occasion, I have no particular memories of any of those meals, and I have never raved about the food to anyone the next day.
Not guilty. Now get out of the court before I change my mind.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Original Theatrical Trailer