There’s a quiet little movie from 1988 that I absolutely love, although it probably didn’t pull in big numbers at the box office and you may not even have heard of it. Crossing Delancey. To me, it’s a sweet little love story with a basic plot. Girl meets boy; girl is pursued by boy; girl thinks boy isn’t smart enough / ambitious enough / sophisticated enough; boy goes his own way, proving her wrong; girl pursues boy before it is too late; girl and boy fall in love. The end.
The film is set in New York – largely in the Lower East Side of Manhattan (Delancey Street) – where Isabel (played by Amy Irving), frequently visits her elderly, meddling Jewish grandmother. On one such visit, Isabel discovers that, without her knowledge or assent, she has been “matched” (no, not by Tinder – by an old-fashioned matchmaker) with Sam (Peter Riegert), an attractive and truly good man. The problem for Izzie? Sam sells pickles for a living. Sure, he owns the business, but the pickles part just doesn’t work for her. (Did I mention that Isabel works for a highbrow, uptown bookseller and pals around with the hoity toity of New York City’s literati?)
Of course, eventually she sees the light and realizes that well-educated, well-read, well-dressed Sam is the perfect match for her and that she has been, well, there’s no other way to say it, acting way too big for her britches (or her perfectly imperfect, arty ’80s wardrobe).
The charm of the movie lies in Sam – his quiet, unexpected sense of humor; his absolute kindness and decency; the respect with which he treats Isabel. To say nothing of the fact that he smells of vanilla because he soaks his hands in it to rid them of the scent of pickles.
Which brings me to the subject of good guys in the movies. Characters who become swoon-worthy because they are so decent and just plain nice. Who win the leading lady not necessarily because of good looks but because of their good acts. Who offer substance versus flash.
Characters who put the “men” in “mensch.” To wit:
Steve Martin in It’s Complicated. A vulnerable, sweet-with-a-capital-S, smart, and good-natured architect whose heart is still wounded from a divorce, Martin’s character, Adam, steals the heart of Meryl Streep’s character, Jane (also sweet, also smart, also vulnerable and a highly successful entrepreneur) – luring her away from the arms of her selfish (albeit rich and Porsche-driving) ex-husband. Not complicated at all.
Jack Black in The Holiday. An absolute sweetheart of a movie-score composer, Black’s character, Miles, is the good friend that Kate Winslet’s Iris needs after being so mistreated by her bottom dweller of a non-committal, cheating, sometimes-boyfriend, Jasper (who gets engaged but continues to string Iris along until she says enough is enough). Adorable and adoring, generous and generally a gem, Miles unbreaks Iris’s heart by giving her his heart, wrapped in a big red bow.
Colin Firth in Bridget Jones’s Diary. It’s hard not to expect that Mark Darcy (echoing the Mr. Darcy of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice) will win the day, but things don’t go well at first. Held in not-so-high esteem by everyone’s favorite can’t-get-her-act-together heroine, Bridget (Renée Zellweger), Mark is the underdog against the devastatingly handsome and naughty Daniel (Hugh Grant), whom Bridget has set her sights on. But Daniel turns out to be the dirty dog we knew he would be (no offense to dogs) and Bridget finally sees that Mark is the one for her – solid, dependable, distinguished, romantic. And a great kisser. Dear Diary.
Simply put, fancy that.
©2023 Claudia Grossman