Monday, February 13, 2012

Crossing Delancey

1988, PG, 97 min.
IMDB says... A Manhattan single meets a man through her Jewish grandmother's matchmaker.

The 73rd Virgin says... We celebrate the martyrdom of at least three dudes named Valentine - one of them a beheading, with a great romance.

I hate the term chick-flick because it justifies inferior movies through narrow categorization and undervalues great romantic movies like this one.

But this is a chick-flick. One of my favorites. There, I said it. One of my favorites. Maybe I like it because a guy gets all the great lines, for once. The script and Pete Riegert create one of the best male characters in any rom-com. It's so nice to see a male lead who is thoughtful, competent, un-tortured, un-needy. Riegert's steady open-faced gaze rates right up there with Henry Fonda.

Briefly, Isabelle is 33, happy working at a book store, visiting her grandmother (Bubbie?) on the Jewish Lower East Side, and hosting the odd sleepover with a married boyfriend. Her parents "live in Florida with Red Buttons" (semi-famous Jewish entertainer). Her more traditional grandmother is having none of it and has heard from a matchmaker, the warm-hearted but ghastly Mrs. Mandelbaum, whose table manners and habit of referring all matters of clothing and restaurants to her relatives are a funny running joke.

The movie is full of colorful side characters of a kind I will probably never meet. Note the sign for Shapiro's Kosher Wines, "The Wine You Can Almost Cut With a Knife".

I never paid much attention to Amy Irving other than "Carrie" and vaguely remembering she got a tasty settlement out of Spielberg. Here she is very good as a reasonably successful young New Yorker with marriage not in mind. She's spirited but kind of weary. She and her old high school friends bemoan the lack of marriageable men without male-bashing. I don't remember if the term "biological clock" was in common use in 1988, but it's doesn't loom over these proceedings like it does in later romances. One of them has a baby "out of wedlock" but it is viewed as more of a beloved real-world burden rather than as a lifestyle statement.

Isabelle falls under the spell of a married, needy, rakish author named Anton Maes (pron. Moss?), and the rest of the movie concerns itself with whether Sam Posner (Riegert), a somewhat traditional Jew who sells pickles at the same stand that his father did, can woo her in the midst of all this. Here she meets Sam for dinner so she can pass him off to a friend and she can make a graceful exit. The acting on all sides is charming.

Here he escapes Bubbie's apartment after being "invited" by her to come over and clean the windows. Among Reigert's great lines is "I know what ambivalent means."

Next he has to dispatch the occasional sleep-over boyfriend. What's charming is how the defeated and hulking boyfriend breaks the tension. Would that life were this way.

In the next clip I don't know whose idea it was that he should move the vase about two inches after she sets it down, but it is a nifty affectation to show someone who has innate good taste and a sense of detail that one might expect in a successful businessman who deals with the public all day. When he tilts his head and she leans back, the body language is about as lifelike as a movie can get. So finally, after another blown date at Bubbie's apartment where Sam has arrived in one of Mrs. Mandelbaum's cousin's bargain suits and a drunken Bubbie is crashed on the sofa, Sam speaks for nice guys everywhere.

Be forewarned that when most women watch this they reflexively kibbutz about the painful 80s fashion and hair. The jarring soundtrack by The Roches doesn't always fit either, and it has a freeze frame ending perhaps because they didn't quite know how to otherwise end it. A scene in a health club where two soul sisters say mmm-hmm and mmm-mmm about 3 times would probably now be considered racist in a patronizing Woody Allen-ish way and there is a Rasta cab driver who isn't much better. But these are quibbles. A great 97-minute grown-up romance.

Happy Valentine's Day!

P.S. I have no clips of Jeroen Krabbe as Anton, but you would recognize him from The Fugitive and other bad guy roles. He was in a great Dutch-language war movie called Soldier of Orange with a pre-Blade Runner Rutger Hauer. Wikipedia calls Reizl Bozyk (Bubbie) a legend of Yiddish theater. This is her only movie.

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