Sunday, January 09, 2011

Yentl (1983) ***

I basically watched this on a dare from my wife. I can’t say that I ever had a desire to watch a musical movie starring Barbra Streisand, in which the most famous song is called “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” How shocked was I then to find myself actually liking the movie?

Yentl (Streisand) is raised by her single-parent father in a Jewish community somewhere in eastern Europe. Her dad is a rabbi and a bit of a rebel. He secretly teaches her to read the sacred texts, the Torah and the Talmud, something that is traditionally forbidden to women. When her dad dies, Yentl cuts her hair, dresses as a boy, and goes to the city to study at a rabbinic school. There she proves such a quick study that she is paired with star pupil Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin). Yentl falls in love with the handsome, brilliant young man, but Avigdor is in love with a hottie named Hadass (Amy Irving), and, of course, he thinks Yentl is a man. Things get really strange when Yentl winds up married to Hadass and has to ward off the advances of the increasingly in-love, young bride. This bizarre love triangle is hilarious most of the time, sometimes touching, and actually pretty sexy.

I generally found myself more interested in the story than the music in “Yentl”. The songs serve well to explicate Yentl’s inner life, but I don’t see myself listening to the album in my car. The acting is excellent all around. Streisand and Patinkin have great chemistry, and they do a great job portraying the kinkiness of their situation. Amy Irving doesn’t have as much to do as they do, but she is very easy on the eyes. All the times that Yentl refuses to bed Hadass I found myself wanting to scream, “Just take her!”

This film has been the butt of a lot of jokes, and it’s easy to see why. The title is terrible, the music is overwrought, and the whole look and feel of “Yentl” is not really for mass consumption. I’m glad I gave it a chance, though. It’s really a fun, thoughtful movie.

3 stars

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