Monday, August 3, 2015

Love in the 1980s: Tootsie and Crossing Delancey

Hoffman as Michael as Dorothy.
Love is never easy in a romantic comedy.

In Tootsie (1982), Dustin Hoffman plays Michael Dorsey, an out-of-work actor whose career soars after he lands a role--as a woman--on a television soap. His best friend (Bill Murray) and agent (director Sydney Pollack) are the only ones who know that he's impersonating a woman. That becomes a major problem when Michael falls in love with Julie (Jessica Lange), one of his co-stars on Southwest General.

Oscar-winner Jessica Lange.
The central premise of Tootsie has been done before and done better (e.g., the much funnier Some Like It Hot). Tootsie becomes a far more interesting film when viewed as a tale of personal transformation. When we first meet Michael, he is a self-centered man unable to connect emotionally with women. He teaches acting because he can't get work as an actor. It's only when he becomes actress Dorothy Michaels that he "sees himself" for the first time and strives to be a better person. He subsequently develops a meaningful relationship with a woman, as his friendship with Julie evolves into love.

While Tootsie works sporadically, it can't overcome its blemishes. For example, the outcomes of Michael's inevitable revelation are resolved far too neatly. It's hard to imagine Julie's father (Charles Durning) ever forgiving Michael after proposing marriage to Dorothy. Also, at the beginning of the film, Hoffman makes Michael almost too unlikable. I can see where Hoffman wanted to take his performance. By stressing Michael's character flaws, it makes his later transformation all the more effective. Still, it's a fine line to walk, even for an actor of Hoffman's caliber.

Tootsie was nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Pollack), Best Actor (Hoffman), Best Supporting Actress (Jessica Lange and Teri Garr), and Best Song (the pretty "It Might Be You," a modest hit for Stephen Bishop). The only nominee to go to home with an Oscar statuette was Jessica Lange.

Amy Irving as Izzy.
In Crossing Delancey (1988), Isabelle's biggest obstacle to finding love is herself. Her identity is shaped by her need for independence and her career. Isabelle, or Izzy for short, has made a conscious decision to distance herself from her Jewish roots. She can't ignore them totally, though, for the most important person in her life is her Bubbie (Jewish grandmother).

Her Bubbie has decided that Izzy's life would be more fulfilling with a husband to share it. She has engaged the services of a marriage broker, much to her granddaughter's dismay. To please Bubbie, Isabelle (Amy Irving) agrees to meet the marriage broker's proposed candidate. Imagine her surprise when Sam (Peter Riegert) turns out to be a good-looking, financially-stable, charming guy.

Izzy and her Bubbie.
At its heart, Crossing Delancey is a character study about a young woman blinded by her perceptions of career and love. She pursues an intellectual author because she loves the "idea" of him. She can't see that he views her only as a sexual conquest and/or his new personal assistant. Likewise, she initially looks down on Sam because he has no career aspirations beyond his family's pickle business and no interest in moving from her old Jewish neighborhood.

Amy Irving brings out the flaws in Izzy, while still keeping the character likable. It's perhaps her best performance, though I also think she was quite good in Brian De Palma's The Fury, opposite Richard Dreyfuss in The Competition, and in Yentl with Barbra Streisand.

The star of the film, though, is Reizl Bozyk as Bubbie. Her credits consist of two movies, including Crossing Delancey, and an episode of Law and Order. According to her New York Times obituary, Reizl Bozyk appeared in hundreds of Yiddish stage productions in New York, Argentina, and Poland. She was 74 when she appeared in Crossing Delancey, giving a heartfelt, nuanced performance as the loving, sometimes feisty, and always crafty Bubbie.


  1. I always thought Teri Garr should have won the Oscar that year over Lange. Teri was brilliant in that, Young Frankenstein, Close Encounters, and Mrs. Mom.

    1. Yes, it was a fine year for Ms. Garr. She is indeed very good in TOOTSIE.

    2. Peter Riegert showed in Crossing Delancey and Local Hero he could carry a movie as well as stand out in ensembles. Animal House makes a fine movie resume trifecta.

  2. I am SO GLAD you wrote about "Crossing Delancey". It's one of my all-time fave films, and NO ONE writes about it! I absolutely adore the characters in this film, but Reizl Bozyk steals the show. I've introduced this movie to several people and every single one has fallen in love with "Bubbie".

  3. I LOVE Crossing Delancey! It's not just the actors but the whole vibe of the film captures a period in New York that seems to have passed.

    I'm usually not a fan of The Roches but their music fits the film so well and gives it a singular personality. And Suzzy Roche, pulling double duty, is quite wonderful in her small role as Izzy's friend Marilyn. All the supporting cast is sensational down to the smallest role, that sad woman who sings One Enchanted Evening in the deli haunts me still.

    Amy Irving & Peter Riegert have tons of chemistry and make the lead pair very charming both separately and together but as lovely as they are together Reizl Bozyk owns this film. The fact that she didn't even score a nomination for this totally brilliant work is appalling, in my opinion she should have won.

    I think I like Tootsie more than you, warts and all, but do agree that Durning's forgiveness comes awfully quickly. Poor Teri Garr had the misfortune to be competing the year the academy was determined to hand an Oscar, any Oscar, to Jessica Lange for her brilliance in Frances and since Streep was unbeatable in Sophie's Choice they had to hand her the award that rightfully should have had Teri's name on it.

  4. So nice to see all the fans for CROSSING DELANCEY. I am also puzzled as to why it wasn't a bigger hit when released and isn't better known today.

  5. This was a fun post. I enjoyed both films but especially "Crossing Delancey". Peter Riegert gave a strong performance as a hard working, truly nice guy.