On New Year’s Day, I found myself watching one of the most delightful rom-coms I have ever seen but had only heard about recently. All hail Crossing Delancey, a film that came out (coincidentally on New Year’s Day!) in 1988. Readers may think it sounds familiar, and that might be because it was recently given a shout-out in this New York Times profile on the owner of Sweet Pickle Books, whose store pays homage to the movie. (Personally, I first heard about it from my dear friends and colleagues over at CrimeReads. The real crime here being that not enough people have seen this movie!)
Imagine this: the gentle bops of “Come Softly to Me” by The Roches float over New York City in the opening credits. Here we follow Izzy Grossman (Amy Irvine) into New Day Books. There’s a party! They’re popping champagne! (The owner of the store gives a brief and heartfelt toast on the resilience of the written word and the importance of local bookstores.) Like many rom-com heroines, Izzy Grossman works in the larger literary industry. In this case, she’s a devoted bookseller, checking on clients and cleaning up their cups and subtly preventing someone from shoplifting. (Seriously, god love booksellers.) But wait! She locks eyes with a man across the room. He is, of course, a White Man Writer. We are to understand that he is sort of a Big Deal. We are also to understand that Izzy has a crush on him. She’s tickled by his intellect, and intrigued by his gentility, so very different from her own upbringing. (We get it, Izzy. Who among us has not been there?) Anyway, his name is Anton Maes (Jeroen Krabbé), and he is Love Interest #1.
Meanwhile, Izzy’s well-meaning and gleefully nosy grandmother, Ida Kantor (Reizl Bozyk), arranges for the neighborhood Matchmaker to find her a husband. Their pick? The strapping Sam Posner (Peter Riegert). Ah, Love Interest #2. He sells pickles. This proves to be a problem for Izzy, who is pretty sure that she’s supposed to be with the Writer. No, she’s an Uptown Girl at heart! She’s sure of it!
I won’t spoil the plot, partially because you already know how it ends and partially because you just need to watch it for yourself. No, what I came here to say is that it’s a refreshingly realistic movie. There are scenes that take place in small kitchens, for instance. And Sam Posner plays handball! It’s authentic New York, like if Nora Ephron, well, crossed Delancey. But the thing that really makes this movie stand out, amongst all the other Manhattan-based rom-coms, is that in this one, books are sort of bad.
Think about it: have you ever seen a movie that features an independent bookstore in which said shop was not meant to signify some sort of great virtue? We all swooned when Hugh Grant greeted Julia Roberts in The Travel Bookshop in Notting Hill. We instantly fell in love with Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail simply because she owns a children’s bookshop. And even though they don’t work in books in When Harry Met Sally, they do have a meet-cute in Shakespeare & Company, and from that, we are to gather that they are both Intelligent and Well-Educated and Sympathetic individuals. Well! No more! In Crossing Delancey, the Upper West Side bookstore is actually emblematic of Izzy shunning her background. It takes away from the quality time she spends with her grandmother. It signifies a world of intellectual snobs. The Writer prattles on about his writing, and (surprise surprise) shows himself to be a self-interested, condescending, misogynistic dolt.
Okay, admittedly, the bookstore owner and her fellow booksellers seem to be good-hearted, fun people. But still! Writers and their inner circles are portrayed as the most insufferable kind of people. And that woman shoplifting in the opening scene? Not all those who venture into bookstores are pure of heart!
So, go watch Crossing Delancey. Come for the ’80s vibes and stay for the way they convey the city like it is: People eating hot dogs at Gray’s Papaya on their birthday! An immigrant grandmother saving nice wrapping paper! People milling around bookstores, sometimes being jerks!
(NB: I love bookstores; support indie bookstores.)