Crossing Delancey (1988) is a romantic comedy about a woman in her early 30’s whose Bubbe thinks she should be married already. Amy Irving plays Izzy Grossman, who has a fancy job Uptown in Manhattan, and whom Bubbe’s matchmaker friend has matched with Sam Posner, a blue-collar fellow who sells pickles on the Lower East Side played by Peter Riegert. The tension in the plot is between tradition and modernity, and there is never much doubt which will triumph.
One notable performance in the film is that of Reizl Bozyk, who plays Bubbe. She was one of the stalwarts of Yiddish theater, first in Poland and then in New York, but this is her only performance in American film.
Crossing Delancey is billed as a romantic comedy, but the most vivid relationship in the film is that between Izzy and her grandmother. Izzy is a modern woman, circa 1988, but she also cares deeply for her Bubbe, visiting her regularly in the old neighborhood, and looking after her. She is exasperated but respectful when Bubbe hires a matchmaker, agreeing to meet “the match” only to humor Bubbe.
Izzy’s relationships with her friends receive almost as much time as the romantic relationships in the film. Izzy’s work world is fully assimilated into secular American life (in this case, that of the New York intelligentsia), but her family and friendships are deeply rooted in Jewish culture and society. She and her friends alarm their mothers, straying far into the modern world of work and career, but the film suggests that at heart, Izzy’s heart is still on the Lower East Side.
This is one of the rare films that shows Jewish women and their relationships in a warm and realistic light. All of the women in the film could have been written and played as stereotypes, but fortunately for us, the writer and the director chose otherwise.
Watch Kissing Jessica Stein for a version of a similar romantic comedy made thirteen years later. Another mother is anxious for her daughter to “find someone,” but a lot changed in those thirteen years. What the two films have in common is a warm depiction of Jewish grandmothers, mothers, and daughters who love one another deeply, and who are people you might wish you knew.
Amy Irving co-starred in another film about a Jewish woman made in the 1980’s, Yentl. There she played Hadass, the conventional, traditional foil to Yentl’s choices about gender.
Roger Ebert argued in his review of this film that Izzy and Sam characters are so constrained by the conventions of American romantic comedy that they are barely more than “plot devices”: stock characters given stock speeches. Whether Izzy is a “real” character or a “plot device” what do you think of her choices and behavior? Do you know anyone like Izzy, or is she a caricature?