Love letter to a bygone city

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“Crossing Delancey” turns 30, evoking a time before there was a bank on every block


  • Photo of Amy Irving, who starred in "Crossing Delancey," in the window of Guss Pickles in 2009. Photo: Joyce Mohrer, via flickr

By Jon Friedman

Does anybody not love the film “Crossing Delancey,” a 1988 romantic comedy and one of the most charming love letters to our city?

Now that Joan Micklin Silver’s cult classic (written by Susan Sandler, based on her play) is turning the ripe old age of 30 years, we can step back and assess what it says about us and our little town.

“Crossing Delancey” stars the dazzling Amy Irving as Izzy, a pretty, likable Jewish woman in her thirties navigating New York in the go-go 1980s. Izzy practically pats herself on the back for escaping the Lower East Side, which she regards as a quaint, if stultifying, neighborhood.

If the Lower East Side is slightly grubby, in her mind, Izzy has found fulfillment — where else? — on the upwardly mobile Upper West Side. Izzy, ambitious to make her mark in the world of the literati, is thrilled that her job in a book store puts her in close contact with New York literary lions, despite how haughty and emotionally shallow they may be.

Izzy personifies social mobility. But Sam (the terrific as always Peter Riegert) represents a bygone era in the city. He owns a pickle shop and reeks of an ethnic working-class ethos that Izzy looks down on — but in the nicest possible way. With the help of an old-fashioned matchmaker, Izzy and Sam get together and find common ground over pickles and books.

“Crossing Delancey” is also a snapshot of the city’s past. The Lower East Side used to be buzzing with merchants like Sam. They carried on family traditions and took tremendous pride in their work, as unglamorous as it was to the people uptown. Now, regrettably, the neighborhood resembles other corners of the city. You know the modern Manhattan, complete with a bank on every city block.

What does this say about us? Is it inherently evil to want to kill time in a Starbucks instead of a mom and pop shop a few doors down? Yes, these little stores are all odes to a simpler time that many of our grandparents embraced — but Whole Foods is so much more convenient. And closer.

I recently wrote a piece about the demise of the Village Voice, in its own way as much of a symbol of “old” New York as anything. Now it’s gone because it couldn’t keep up with the media’s changing economics.

I bet Peter Riegert’s character read the Voice faithfully. Izzy might be more inclined to check out the Vulture culture section of New York magazine. It says a lot about you depending on which of the two you preferred to peruse every week.

Again, no blame assigned here. No guilt, either. It’s just the way it is.

But cultural dissertations should not detract from the sheer likability of “Crossing Delancey.” Amy Irving and Peter Riegert turn in intelligent, engaging performances. (I don’t know of any Jewish guy who secretly wishes he was as naturally cool as Peter’s character, Sam Posner). Sure, critics can poke holes in aspects of the film but they would be carping and quibbling.

This movie would be perfect for a family-video night. Parents could show their kids the city where they grew up, before the iPhone and texting and streaming and (oy vey) mass-market video games and (oy gevalt) Thursday Night NFL games.

Now disregard everything I’ve just written. Check out the movie. You’ll laugh. You’ll tear up in happiness. Then you can go downtown for little nosh.

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