Starring-Barbra Streisand, Mandy Patinkin
Scott’s Review #1,144
Reviewed May 20, 2021
Feeling slightly dated nowadays, perhaps for the year it was made, Yentl (1983) is nonetheless a very good watch if only for Barbra’s performance, in multiple ways, alone. Who else could I be talking about other than superstar Barbra Streisand?
Astounding is that she also directed the film, rare as hen’s teeth for a female to direct in those days. Even circa 2021, there have only been two women to win the coveted Best Director Oscar prize. Mind-blowing. Streisand was snubbed in this category and was understandably miffed.
But I’ll get down from my soapbox.
Streisand plays the title role. Yentl is a bookish girl and daughter of a respected Talmud teacher who instructs her although she is female and not male. This is forbidden in their culture. Her father dies leaving Yentl to her own devices and determinations. She disguises herself as a boy to gain entry to a yeshiva and meets Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin), who she becomes fascinated by. But he only has eyes for Hadass (Amy Irving) who he is supposed to marry.
This results in a triangle of sorts but not in the traditional sense. Hadass develops feelings for Anshel (really Streisand as Yentl in drag). After they marry (unconsummated) Anshel falls in love with Avigdor. This may sound like a comedy rather than drama and it does contain a bit of each but the romantic interludes, misunderstandings, and misinterpretations are not really the best parts of the film.
The main themes of faith and romance are center stage. Streisand may have had feminism on her mind with the film but I didn’t find this a major point except for Yentl refusing to marry a man.
She pretends to be a boy because females are repressed in the religion. A real win would have been Yentl embracing faith as she really is, but for 1983 the message isn’t a bad one.
Still, we are supposed to want Yentl and Avigdor to live happily ever after but I never felt very much of a connection to the couple.
The best parts of Yentl are the musical score and the songs the audience is treated to. The highlight for me is the emotionally charged “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” which is a gorgeous moment for Yentl. Yentl leaves Europe on a boat bound for the United States, where she hopes to lead a life with more freedom. With a smile on her face, she rises above and into a new day.
It’s a dynamic singing performance and rises the film above where it would have been without the number. It’s like the perfect culminating Streisand moment.
The romantic moments are unfulfilling and predictable, but the film is about Streisand and Streisand alone. As good as Patinkin and Irving are they take a backseat to the illustrious star. We never even get to see Patinkin sing.
I’m okay with this. I watched Yentl (1983) for the enormous talents of its star. Her singing, acting and directing all make the film a worthwhile and engaging experience. It’s not a great film and other Streisand films are better- I’m thinking of Funny Girl (1968) and Hello, Dolly (1969), but it’s way above average.
Oscar Nominations: Best Supporting Actress-Amy Irving, Best Art Direction, Best Original Score (won), Best Original Song-“Papa, Can You Hear Me?”, “The Way He Makes Me Feel”