Crossing Delancey (1988): Joan Silver’s Romantic Tale of Tradition Vs. Modernity, Starring Amy Irving

Joan Silver returned to the theme of her 1975 film, Hester Street, the clash between tradition and modernity, in Crossing Delancey, adapted to the big screen by Susan Sandler from her own play.

Amy Irving plays Isabelle Grossman, a self-reliant New Yorker who works for a bookstore which supports authors through public readings.

When author Anton Maes comes to the bookstore to give a reading, he shows an interest in Isabelle, who is enamored with the intellectual world, which is very different from her traditional Jewish upbringing.

Isabelle visits frequently her Bubbie (grandmother) Ida, who lives on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Anxious for Isabelle to settle down, Ida turns to the local marriage broker. Although annoyed, Isabelle allows the matchmaker to introduce her to Sam Posner, who owns a pickle shop.

At first, Isabelle is not interested in Sam–he’s too Jewish, too working-class for her. Instead, she sets her sights on Anton and the New York intelligentsia. But feeling guilty for how rude she was, she tries to make it up to Sam by setting him up with her girlfriend Marilyn.

In the process, she learns that he did not hire a matchmaker out of desperation, and in fact has admired Isabelle from afar for years.  Deeply touched, she begins to warm up to him.

At a book reading, both Sam and Anton show up. Isabelle leaves with Sam, and later agrees to meet him the next day. After work, however, she is sidelined by Anton and goes to his apartment, only to realize that Anton wants an assistant, not a partner.

Heartbroken, Isabelle believes she has ruined her chances with Sam. As she cries, Sam enters from the balcony.  The two finally are united and Ida feigns confusion, but is happy that her plan has succeeded.

The female-driven tale is interspersed with Jewish folklore and rituals, such as birthdays and circumcision, which lends the movie its proper ethnic flavor.

Once again, a light tone and Irving’s likable performance compensate partially for Silver’s lack of a distinct point of view and flawed technique.

Easily Silver’s most likable film, Crossing Delancey was an arthouse success, long before indie features rose to prominence. Made on a Budget of $4 million, the movie earned $16 million at the box-office.

What’s missing from Silver’s work–and the reason why she has never become a major or accomplished director–are better technical skills and stronger personal vision.

Isabelle Grossman – Amy Irving
Sam Posner – Peter Riegert
Bubbie (Ida) Kantor – Reizl Bozyk
Anton Maes – Jeroen Krabbé
Hannah Mandelbaum – Sylvia Miles
Lionel – George Martin
Nick – John Bedford Lloyd
Cecelia Monk – Claudia Silver
Mark – David Hyde Pierce
Pauline Swift – Rosemary Harris
Marilyn Cohen – Suzzy Roche
Ricki – Amy Wright
Candyce – Faye Grant
Karen – Deborah Offner
Myla Bondy – Kathleen Wilhoite
Rabbi – Moishe Rosenfeld
Diva – Paula Laurence
Woman in cab – Christine Campbell
Cab driver – Reg E. Cathey
Leslie – Susan Blommaert
Aunt Miriam – Dolores Sutton
Handball champion – Sam Corsi
Mickey – Michael Marisi Ornstein
Molly – Susan Sandler


Directed by Joan Micklin Silver
Produced by Michael Nozik
Written by Susan Sandler (based on her play)
Music by Paul Chihara
Cinematography Theo Van de Sande
Edited by Rick Shaine
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date: August 24, 1988
Running time: 97 minutes