Crossing Delancey

The movie offers a touching affirmation of Jewish values.

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An Ethnic Flavor

With such an "ethnic flavor"--all the way down to the pickles--and with such a clear contrast between Izzie's Manhattan and her grandmother's Lower East Side, the film could easily have fallen into stereotypes, but it doesn't. Likewise, it could have been so self-conscious that its characters might have lacked any flavor or authenticity at all. Fortunately, it isn't.

This is not to say that the characters aren't, shall we say, "exaggerated" a little. But herein lies the fun of the film and its effectiveness at getting its points across. Bubbie's histrionics enable her to walk the line between wise concern and devious plotting and make her even more lovable. Matchmaker Hannah (Sylvia Miles) belches and eats like a glutton, yet somehow earns the respect of her clients, if for no other reason than because of her noble calling. Izzie is rendered delightfully human (in a vulnerable sort of way), and still more sympathetic, when, out of vanity and naiveté, she develops an awkward crush on an irresponsible novelist.

Not only does Crossing Delancey get the most out of the main characters by approaching them with a certain sympathetic playfulness, but it also uses secondary or supporting characters in a way unsurpassed by any film. Co-workers, old high school friends, strangers at park benches or hot-dog stands, even a singing street lady, enhance the main characterizations immensely.

The only time that a main character could have made a better showing is a scene in which Sam walks into one of Izzie's literary gatherings and exits before he has an opportunity to hold his own. His leaving, although understandably motivated by a desire to be alone with Izzie, appears too much like running away. One hopes that he would have stayed five or 10 minutes more and made his mark. Yet in the same segment he does take hold of events by finding a way to divert Izzie's bearded, unhappily married occasional houseguest

Crossing Delancey is rich in ethnic--or better, Jewish--traditions and terms. Yet somehow these "Jewish" aspects seem to lack effectiveness or spiritual impact. This is especially true of one scene where Izzie attends the brit (circumcision) of the baby of an old high school friend. Somehow the spiritual significance is lost in standard brit jokes which even the baby could have written. (The baby ad libs, anyway.) The writer seems hell-bent on making the point that Izzie's friend has had a baby to raise "on her own" only because her "biological clock" was winding down, and that the friend's main concern is that the baby be profitable and pay his own way by becoming some kind of Gerber or other ad model.

Jewish Traditions

It is heartbreaking that some of the truly beautiful and authentic allusions to Jewish traditions will be lost to the general audience due to lack of explanation or at least translation, such as Sam's reference to attending the daily minyan. The most moving and romantic line in the entire film is Sam's line that he was so happy to see Izzie that he made a berakhah (blessing) for the occasion, reciting the first blessing that came to his mind, one having to do with trees. We can forgive him for not thinking of the sheheheyanu prayer recited on special occasions, and we are most grateful to the writer and producers for leaving the line in the film. Authentic Jewish characters must use authentic Jewish terms in films; but the writers must find ways to explain those terms creatively.

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Rabbi Elliot B. Gertel

Elliot B. Gertel is the rabbi of Congregation Rodfei Zedek in Chicago and media critic for The Jewish Post and Opinion of Indianapolis.