Jarv’s Birthday Series Redux: Crossing Delancey (1988)
I never have any luck with Romantic Comedies on these lists, and on first glance Crossing Delancey (24th August in the USA) doesn’t look like it’s going to help me out at all. I don’t have anything against the genre per se, but so many of them are just simply terrible. Why couldn’t I have got When Harry Met Sally, as that’s really good and I seem to remember it being released at around this time? It’s just not fair. Still, I’ll give it my best shot.
May contain a handy household tip to remove the smell of pickle from one’s fingers and spoilers below.
I’m not sure this is a good idea, to be honest, as I’m not emotionally equipped for films like this. Give me a zombie eating someone’s face and I’ll happily watch it, or throw in a few midgets and I’m away. I do, admittedly, struggle with overly sentimental and vaguely patronising tosh that’s purely designed for the enjoyment of old age pensioners of the Jewish New York persuasion. I’m almost convinced that this started out life as a Barbara Streisand vehicle, yet somehow morphed into the version that we have today.
Amy Irving plays self-hating Jewess Isabella. She’s living an uptown Manhattan life, working in a bookshop and shagging her serially unfaithful neighbour. She’s somehow convinced herself that this job and her life are the be all and end all of human experience. She’s set her sights on posh European poet/ Author Anton (Jeroen Krabbé), but in the meantime has to go back to the lower East side (I think it is, I wasn’t paying attention) to see her “Bubbie”(Reizl Bozyk). One day during a whiskers plucking session, Bubbie breaks it to her that she’s set Isabella up with a marriage broker (does such a beast still exist in the West in the 21st Century?). Isabella, needless to say, is none too chuffed to find this out, but attends the dinner anyway out of respect for Bubbie’s feelings. At the dinner is pickle salesman (not joking) Sam (Peter Riegert) an all round nice guy. So, who will she pick: slimy Eurotrash poet and obvious scumbag or good Jewish boy from the wrong side of Delancey (Fucking clever title, this)?
This is a strange and boring film. I do concede that it really is not for the likes of me, but honestly, I was lost in a sea of ethnic stereotypes for most of the film. Seriously, and I know this sounds like an exaggeration but I could hardly believe it when I saw it, Crossing Delancey must be the only Romantic Comedy in the history of Cinema to feature a circumcision as a major scene. What the hell were they thinking? That we hadn’t managed to twig that Isabella was Jewish? Fuck’s sake, Bubbie’s accent is so thick that she practically sweats chicken soup, and Sam’s a fucking pickle salesman for the love of god. Just in case we haven’t managed to work out that she’s all Jewish, the marriage broker’s (Sylvia Miles) voice is from the Joan Rivers school of communication, and they witter on and on about matters specifically Jewish to confirm their ethnicity.
The film isn’t done there, though, so we’ve also got David Hyde Pierce typecast as an uptight Wasp, and at one stage she gets in a taxi driven by a fucking Rastafarian who can’t drive properly. Honestly, it’s so broad brush as to almost be offensive. All this rampant ethnic stereotyping can give a guy a headache. Mrs Jarv had nothing but contempt for the film, citing it as bordering on the obnoxious on more than one occasion. In all honesty, I have to agree with her.
It’s no surprise to me to discover that Crossing Delancey started out life as a play. Susan Sandler adapted her own work to the screen, and it feels incredibly stagey. There’s no natural flow to the scenes- instead Isabella turns up at location A, has a meaningful conversation, then cuts straight to location B for another important chat. Joan Micklin Silver, a director I am completely unfamiliar with, struggles against the structure of the script- she’s got no wiggle room because each individual moment is meant to be full of import, as if these vignettes will allow us to empathise with Isabella’s self-loathing and pray for her redemption. By redemption, of course, I mean a return to her nice Jewish roots and a nice Jewish boy.
There’s one scene in particular that I’m going to pick on for illustration: the dinner. Isabella decides she was queen bitch to Sam, and so is going to set him up with her friend. Now, remember at this stage of the film she has absolutely no interest in Sam as a husband, fucktoy, whatever. Anyway, if this was on stage there would be her and the friend having a conversation, the friend would exit stage left, and Sam would enter stage right. They would then sit down to dinner and wheel out the conversation before the friend (who is incidentally a million times more likeable than Isabella) enters stage left again. It’s honestly that artificial feeling and it completely dragged me out of the film. To make matters worse, this dinner is plain creepy- Sam reveals that he first saw Isabella three years ago, but never talked to her, and has been stalking her from a distance until the marriage broker opened the door for him. Instead of macing him, she thinks this story is adorable and her heart begins to melt. So when the friend returns we’re treated to a deeply uncomfortable scene where Irving tries to use her eyes to exhibit jealousy (for no good reason) and the friend makes a fool of herself. The whole thing is embarrassing, in all honesty.
Irving and Riegert try hard with this material, but it’s so hackneyed and so one-dimensional that it’s almost impossible to care in the slightest. Isabella doesn’t grow or develop as a character, she’s profoundly self-centered at the start of the film, and finishes the film as profoundly self-centered as she was at the beginning. She strikes me as a spoiled child who wants all the toys for herself while simultaneously believing that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Riegert is attempting to play “down to Earth”, I think, but he comes across as a creepy stalker, who strains his cortex in a futile effort to inject some deeper meaning into every conversation. Nah, this couple don’t work as Star Crossed Lovers in my book- she’s a selfish twat and he’s a weirdo. Not to mention that they’re possibly the ugliest pair of leads ever to front a Romantic Comedy.
The support also try hard. Krabbé is a revoltingly oily specimen of humanity, and an obvious hate figure (which is fine) but he doesn’t really do anything to merit the abuse she throws at him at the finale. Sure, he abused his position to get in her pants, but that’s hardly a hanging offence. Bozyk and Miles, on the other hand, got right on my tits from their first appearance on screen until the time they left. I know it’s not their fault, as the characters are so obviously written as stereotypes, but I was gritting my teeth praying for them to fuck off every time they opened their mouth. Bozyk’s drunk scene at the end is particularly grating and I can now say with all honesty that I never want to see another film with an elderly Jewish woman getting pissed.
The problem here is that I have no sympathy or empathy for any of the characters, because there’s nothing in this film at all that I can remotely relate to. I also suspect the ethnicity angle is overplayed to try to add some depth to the film; to set up a tradition versus the modern world dichotomy, but it’s so transparent and so cack handed that it got right on my tits. For a Romcom, this is absolute death as if you don’t want the characters to get together then you may as well pack it in and go home.
Overall, this honks. It’s as ethnically insensitive as Mickey Rooney’s performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and although I’m not one of the professionally outraged classes, it did make me wince with embarrassment on more than one occasion. However, worse than that, what it really did was bore the stuffing out of me. Crossing Delancey is only 97 minutes long, but it felt like an eternity, and an eternity stuck with toothless bastards eating brisket and whinging about how youngsters have no respect. I really don’t recommend this absolute wank to anyone, and I’m mystified why it has such a high rating out there. There’s only one score I can possibly ever give to a film like this: Orangutan of Doom.
To be honest, next time I’m Crossing Delancey (Street) it’s to get to the Edinboro Castle on the other side for a delicious pint of Guinness.
Until next time,
The Full List for the Birthday Series Redux:
- 2011- The Skin I Live In (2.5 out of 4)
- 2010- The Last Exorcism (2.5 out of 4)
- 2009- Post Grad (1 out of 4)
- 2008- The House Bunny (1 out of 4)
- 2007- Knocked Up (1 out of 4)
- 2006- Volver (1 out of 4)
- 2005- Red Eye (2 out of 4)
- 2004- Dead Clowns (Orangutan of Doom)
- 2003- Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life (1 out of 4)
- 2002- Talk to Her (4 out of 4)
- 2001- Jeepers Creepers (2 out of 4)
- 2000- Gossip (1 out of 4)
- 1999- All About My Mother (1 out of 4)
- 1998- The X-Files (1 out of 4)
- 1997- Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion (2 out of 4)
- 1996- The Last Supper (3 out of 4)
- 1995- The Usual Suspects (4 out of 4)
- 1994- Color of Night (2 out of 4)
- 1993- Surf Ninjas (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1992- The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag (2 out of 4)
- 1991- Pump Up the Volume ( 3 out of 4)
- 1990- Wild at Heart (3 out of 4)
- 1989- Bull Durham (3.5 out of 4)
- 1988- Crossing Delancey (Orangutan of Doom)
- 1987- The Big Easy
- 1986- Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
- 1985- Better off Dead
- 1984- Oxford Blues
- 1983- MetalStorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn
- 1982- The Thing
- 1981- Honky Tonk Freeway
- 1980- Schock
- 1979- Rich Kids
- 1978- Coma