Torn Between Two Flavors: The Conflicting Palates of Tenderness and Desire
by Zoe Wall
Joan Micklin Silver’s 1988 romance film, Crossing Delancey, explores a woman’s conflicting feelings towards two romantic opportunities and their corresponding diets: one panders to her desire of success and upscale lifestyle, and the other deepens her understanding of herself as well as of her preconceived notions of the world around her. The main character, Izzy, is a working woman who is excited by her establishment in the high-class New York bookstore scene and less excited by the thought of being set up with a man by her spunky, overbearing Bubbie. She reluctantly meets Sam Posner, a pickle man with a setup on the Lower East Side, who expresses genuine interest and kindness towards her. Meanwhile, Izzy is drawn to the allure and intellectuality of famous romance writer Anton Maes, whom she yearns to impress. The culture of Jewish New York is continuously established by the rich food imagery surrounding the characters. Her attraction to some foods and repulsion from others exemplifies her struggle between her opposing desires for what the men offer. Through the meals Izzy enjoys (and does not enjoy), Crossing Delancey considers what qualities one should prioritize when seeking to form a relationship.
Though Izzy finds Sam to have a deep understanding of life and a genuine desire to know her as a person, she finds it difficult to let herself appreciate his offers of care. She is turned off by his working-class profession of running a pickle stand, which demonstrates her preoccupation with upper-class ideals. In a pivotal scene, Izzy happily strolls toward his place of work, delighted by the new hat he sent her, but her face falls after taking in the details of his labor. His hands are slicked with brine and spices as he shoves his whole arm down into the pickle barrels, emerging with a fist full of them. She chooses to reject him instead of agreeing to another date. The sharp pungency of the pickles and the imposing silhouette of the pickle bins serve to sour Izzy on her relationship with the pickle man. While she is put off by the food offered by one admirer, she finds herself drawn to the suggestive nature of the other man’s offerings. Izzy’s infatuation with Anton is furthered during a rich lunch that he enjoys with her. The high-class meal includes wine and lunch, and even when Izzy declines Anton’s offer of dessert, he orders rich cake and tarts for the two of them. After Izzy admits she does not have much going on in her romantic life, Anton responds by reciting lines of poetry—“Ripe plums are falling / Now there are only three / May a fine lover come for me.” At the end of lunch, he tells her that there are “lots of plums left on [her] tree,” which reveals that he believes her youth and desirability have not withered away yet. He invites her into an affair with him by feeding her decadent, luxurious foods (literally and figuratively), and this temptation causes her feelings for Sam to wane. Ironically, she is to Anton as Sam is to her; Anton refers to her as “like a good, simple pudding” that is “served up gracefully,” even though she wants to be considered a complex and respected person. Anton does not appeal to her emotional side, only her desires for a love affair and success, and these qualities are revealed through the sweet and sultry food imagery brought about by his presence.
While the characters experience the most important turning points in the story, they are surrounded by food especially. Vast arrays of bread and bagels denote the area’s Jewish heritage. Izzy is shown purchasing a hot dog from a vendor when all of a sudden, a woman singing opera about finding one’s soulmate enters, giving Izzy the realization that “once [she has] found him,” she should “never let him go.” This casual daytime interaction causes Izzy to reconsider her feelings for Sam. Bubbie’s kitchen, in particular, is the locus for the majority of the development of Izzy’s relationship with Sam. When Sam and Izzy first meet, they are crowded in her Bubbie’s kitchen with Bubbie and the matchmaker she hired despite Izzy’s complaints. The food served overwhelms the table and establishes a feeling of the overbearing and pushy nature of the meeting. Izzy does not eat, which signifies her refusal to cooperate with the whole process. Later on, after she rejects him, Sam runs into Izzy in the kitchen after eating lunch earned by cleaning Bubbie’s windows. The awkward interaction exposes the main source of her conflict with him—he confronts her about how she thinks his world is “small and provincial,” yet she shares with him that she wants “to get it right.” In the last scene of the film, Sam and Izzy return to the kitchen once more, this time sharing coffee after she abandoned him for Anton. She remarks that they “can’t seem to get out of this kitchen,” and she realizes that Sam has soaked his hands in sweet-smelling vanilla and milk to take away their briny scent. This final communion between the two allows Izzy to see in Sam what she has been ignoring and allows Sam to forgive her once more for it.
Izzy must decide between two options for romance much in the way we must decide what to enjoy for a meal—does she give in to the temptation of decadent saccharine treats, or will she appreciate the food that is lovingly crafted and served every day? She is enticed by Anton’s plums and repulsed by Sam’s pickles, meanwhile navigating through a world full of loaves of bread and marketed vegetables. By exploring Izzy’s options through the various tastes and feelings they evoke, Crossing Delancey causes us to wonder how we would decide which one to savor.
Crossing Delancey. Dir. Joan Micklin Silver. Perf. Amy Irving, Peter Riegert, and Jeroen Krabbé. Warner Bros., 1988. Streaming.