A troubled young man in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn is torn between the woman his traditional parents would like him to marry, and an intriguing, needy new neighbor. Leonard Kraditor is desperately depressed since the breakup of an engagement and wants to find love again. As the film begins, Leonard is standing on a bridge over the water in Brighton Beach Brooklyn when he suddenly jumps in, wearing a full suit. Leonard appears to have changed his mind about what seems like a suicide attempt, and walks out of the water and home to the apartment where he lives with his parents, Ruth and Reuben Kraditor. When Leonard shuts himself in his bedroom, Ruth remarks to Reuben that it is happening again. She is visibly concerned.
Ruth tells Leonard that a some family friends are coming to dinner to discuss business. When the Cohens arrive it is clear from the passing looks between the elder Kraditors and the Cohens that the real reason for the dinner is to set up the Cohen's daughter, Sandra, with Leonard. Leonard is mildly annoyed but drawn to the beautiful and intelligent Sandra. The two young people go into Leonard's bedroom to talk and Sandra asks gentle questions about the photographs that Leonard has taken and hung up in his room. Leonard opens up a bit, telling Sandra that his last engagement was broken off when tests showed that he and his ex-fiance had the genetic markers for Tay-Sachs disease, and thus could not have children together.
Ruth is pleased that Leonard and Sandra seem to have made a connection. This is a traditional Jewish family and it is important to Ruth that Leonard marries a nice Jewish girl. But the next day, Leonard meets a new neighbor, the lanky blond "Shiksa," Michelle Rausch. Michelle enters the scene in chaos, having a loud argument with a man she vaguely tells Leonard is her father. It seems clear that she is lying.
Immediately, Ruth senses trouble and shows disapproval, but Leonard is attracted to Michelle. She draws him in by telling him what a good listener he is, flirting and then inviting him out to a club with her friends. Being out on the town with a group of pretty women invigorates Leonard and he opens up, showing his goofy side and performing a rap and dancing for them. Leonard seems certain that he and Michelle are falling for each other.
Michelle reveals that she is involved with a married man that she works with at a law firm. She invites Leonard to eat dinner with her and her married boyfriend, Ronald. Ronald does not treat Leonard as a worthy competitor for Michelle's affections, and instead thanks him for being a good friend to Michelle and hints that he is concerned about Michelle's drug problem. The couple leaves to see a performance at Lincoln Center and Leonard goes home, lonely and confused.
When Leonard arrives home he finds that his mother has invited Sandra over. After an awkward moment, the two spend more time talking and end up having sex. Michelle continues to string Leonard along, while Sandra makes her intentions very clear. She tells Leonard she is aware of his challenges and frailties but wants to get married and take care of him.
Leonard is at an important family event when Michelle calls to say she is sick and needs Leonard's help. Leonard leaves the party to go to her and finds her in the throes of a painful miscarriage. Back home after medical treatment, Michelle confides that she also called Ronald but he didn't come. Just then, Ronald shows up at Michelle's apartment to briefly comfort her before returning to his wife and family. At Michelle's request, Leonard hides behind the door until Ronald leaves.
Michelle tells Leonard that she is going to move to San Francisco and Leonard says that he will come with her. Michelle seems happy and grateful and Leonard holds her in his arms in a romantic moment on the roof. Leonard then goes and buys an engagement ring for her.
It is New Year's Eve when Mr. Cohen, Sandra's father invites Leonard to his office to offer him a job. It is implied that Leonard of course plans to marry Sandra. But Leonard has a plan to meet Michelle in the courtyard of the building. He has tickets to San Fransisco and the ring. Michelle is late, then shows up without luggage. She tells Leonard the trip is off and that Ronald is finally leaving his wife to be with Michelle.
Devastated, Leonard walks to the dark beach, and throws the ring box. He stands at the water's edge, seeming to contemplate suicide once again. But then he retrieves the ring and goes home to his parents' New year's Eve party. Sandra and her parents are there and Sandra looks at him, shy and expectant. Leonard offers her the ring. All four parents watch in joy and approval as Michelle accepts and her and Leonard embrace.
Best part of story, including ending:
I loved everything about this film. The characters felt very real and the setting was spot on in every detail. The story has such a strong emotional trajectory that is very relatable. We know from the start that Michelle is nothing but trouble, but we see why Leonard is drawn to her beauty and vulnerability.
Best scene in story:
The scene near the end in the courtyard is one of my favorites because it feels inevitable and heart-wrenching. I knew Michelle would disappoint Leonard and it was agonizing to see him wait there in the dark, with the distant sounds of holiday parties going on all around him.
Opinion about the main character:
Leonard Kraditor is such an endearing character. It really comes across that part of his attraction to Michelle is that he likes feeling needed; he likes feeling strong and capable.