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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Moonstruck' Glow Lights 'Delancey'

August 31, 1988|SHEILA BENSON | Times Film Critic

From its first romantic encounter, as two pairs of eyes lock across a crowded room, to its last tremulous one, "Crossing Delancey" (AMC Century 14 and Cineplex Odeon Fairfax) is unqualified pleasure, bound on every side by love.

It's at once hip and romantic; wittily sophisticated and unabashedly affectionate; a love poem to all New York and a companion piece to director Joan Micklin Silver's "Hester Street."

Full of perfectly detailed performances, "Crossing Delancey" brims with the same warm vision of family and community that made "Moonstruck" such a joy.

Isabelle (Izzy) Grossman (Amy Irving) is at the movie's center: bright, happy, successful, single for now and seemingly unfazed about it. The bookstore she manages is the diamond in the navel of Manhattan's literary body. The readings she programs keep her in close contact with virtually every contemporary author worth publishing.

The closest one, currently, is the Dutch-born, fully Americanized Anton Maes (Jeroen Krabbe), who has a way with an across-the-room glance or a personal book inscription that would make any woman's heart stop.

Izzy may be even a touch smug about her influential job and her unfettered life in an Upper West Side, rent-controlled ground-floor apartment.

However, catch her with her \o7 bubee \f7 and you may forgive a lot. (This singular grandmother is played by Yiddish theater stalwart Reizl Bozyk in her first English-language role, and if Olympia Dukakis magic should strike again here, it would be entirely justified.) But when tweezing a stray whisker for her grandmother or taking her to her geriatric self-defense class--full of fearsome ladies of 70 and up absolutely panting for a crack at a purse snatcher--another Izzy emerges. This one is as solidly a part of Delancey Street's teeming Jewish community as Cher's Loretta Castorini was part of Brooklyn's solidly Italian neighborhood.

Her grandmother also sees another Izzy; unfortunately, what \o7 she\f7 sees is a beautiful young girl going absolutely to waste without a husband.

So, to Izzy's horror, her grandmother enlists Hannah the Matchmaker (Sylvia Miles) in the struggle. Enter Sam Posner (Peter Riegert), the 30-some pickle king of Delancey Street--unmarried, choosy, solidly rooted downtown but able to hold his own at one of Izzy's bookstore's late-night literary salons.

Is the Pickle Man too good to be real? Perhaps, but initially Izzy can only judge by snobbish standards just who does or does not fit in her life.

Riegert's Sam is one of the movie's anchors. It's easy to spot Krabbe's push-pull of danger/attraction for Izzy; Sam is a character about whom you have to keep revising your opinion. He \o7 will\f7 say things like \o7 "tres hip." \f7 On the other hand, he's also capable of the big, impulsive gesture--a quality worth its weight in gold.

Sam makes us revise what we feel about Izzy as well, catching her in a condescending remark, squinting our eyes to wonder if the New York literary life isn't really precious beyond belief.

What director Silver manages with this lovely screenplay that Susan Sandler has adapted from her own play is to keep the sophistication as keen as the sentiment is heartfelt.

Their view of the Manhattan single life is panoramic: the chic, slightly wistful women's faces at the Korean take-home salad bar; the horror of arty public-access TV; the almost indulgent pleasure of a Saturday night home alone in the company of a baseball game; the economics of single parenthood, 1980s style--if the baby is adorable enough, its modeling fees may just support mother \o7 and \f7 child.

As with her "Chilly Scenes of Winter," Silver is great at creating that delicate cat's cradle of eroticism between two people right at the brink of attraction--a state the Italians are fond of calling \o7 tensione\f7 .

"Crossing Delancey" is absolutely loaded with \o7 tensione\f7 . It's also full of ripe, wonderful pairs of performances, like unhurried, perfect tennis doubles: Riegert and Irving, Krabbe and Irving, Irving and Bozyk, Bozyk and the outrageous Miles.

Irving seems finally to have shed little-girlhood on film to emerge as a delicately skillful adult actress. And under cinematographer Theo Van de Sande's lenses, she looks breathtaking, her cat's eyes still unfathomable and mysterious.

Silver has been rigorous in seeing that Bozyk's \o7 bubee \f7 doesn't turn fatuous or cute. She remains salty and irrepressible and altogether magnificent.

Silver has also been as right in keeping Riegert at this slightly pudgy weight (somewhat heavier than his "Local Hero" lean overachiever). Anything more svelte and Sam would have been too much of an answered prayer.

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