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‘Crossing Delancey’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 16, 1988


Joan Micklin Silver
Amy Irving;
Peter Riegert;
Reizl Bozyk;
Jeroen Krabbe;
Sylvia Miles
Parental guidance suggested

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Joan Miclin Silver peels off your jaded hide in "Crossing Delancey." She asks you to doff your hat, sit in the kitchen and swallow your old-world grandmother's story about a nice Jewish boy next door who sold pickles near Delancey Street and won himself a nice Jewish girl. Before you know it, you're warmed by the good company of Amy Irving, Peter Riegert and Jeroen Krabbe' -- and you've eaten the whole thing.

In the same way a small European movie takes its time with a simple premise, "Delancey" slowly simmers one big question: Will "Izzy" Grossman (Irving) choose the right man? Her choices are artsy Manhattan author Anton Maes (Krabbe') and humble cuke-jockey Sam Posner (Riegert). Both men stand on opposite sides of Izzy's emotional divide: her upwardly literary existence as the manager of a snooty Manhattan bookstore, and her roots role as granddaughter of aging Lower East Side chicken-souper "Bubbie" (a bubbling Reizl Bozyk).

Her choice seems ridiculously obvious, and sometimes the ethnic humor will make you think you're in Neil Simon Hell. (This is, after all, a meeting between Silver, the director of "Hester Street," and Irving, a star of "Yentl.") But the lighthearted buoyancy comes through. Silver takes her time, just as surely as slowly, searching for nuance between the hackneyed lines of Jewish Moms, Barrow Boys, Famous Authors and English Lit Groupies. Everyone at least has flickering moments of originality. Krabbe''s celeb-author Maes is superficial and self-impressed but sensitive and strangely appealing. Riegert's workingclass lad isn't smugly proletarian; he has an untainted self-confidence that holds its own at any cocktail encounter. And in her strongest screen performance thus far, Irving puts a delicate spin on what could have been mere snobbish deliberation. She makes her transformation an unexpected delight.

Silver's subsidiary characters also shine through the cliches. "Get off your high horse, Miss Universe," says Bubbie, the heavyhanded matchmaker. Sylvia Miles, as her partner-in-manipulation Hannah, keeps a stranglehold on her stereotype but is still infectiously (even grotesquely) funny.

Many scenes stay with you. Izzy, for instance, trying to foist uncouth Sam on her desperate friend Marilyn (Suzzy Roche), sets up a dinner date with Sam. According to plan, Marilyn is supposed to "appear" at the table on a prearranged signal from Izzy. But Izzy, suddenly taken with Sam, forgets to signal, and Marilyn, waiting at the bar, gets drunker and drunker.

On the face of it, "Delancey" begins and ends as the worst kind of sentimental hooey. But that's what kitchen tables are for.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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