Every time I see a Barbra Streisand movie I think ‘this is the most Barbra movie ever made’ and then I see another and quickly recant my words. There is something about her brand of ego that is like no other. She’s the Shyamalan of actresses. Yentl is one of the most ridiculous entries in the Barbra canon. It’s not a good film but there is something about it’s version of nonsense that is entertaining.
Yentl is based on Isaac Baschevis Singer’s short story ‘Yentl the Yeshiva Boy’ and tells the story of a woman named Yentl who pretends to be a man to study at the Talmud school in Poland.
On the surface it could be a decent Mulan-type movie but oh does it get silly. It ends up being a yiddish telenovella, and I found that fun to watch.
To begin with any man who thinks Yentl is a man needs to see counseling. She looks ridiculous. Mandy Patinkin is charming as that man named Avigdor. He is Yentl’s school chum and he can’t figure out why he is so attracted to this man. Their dialogue together is so laughable. Never have you heard such philosophy talk with long stares and confused glances. You even see way more of Patinkin than you want in a bathing scene. Oh my!
And then he is engaged to a girl named Hadass played by Amy Irving who is a dutiful woman who Yentl oddly judges and envies. In an insane turn of events Yentl ends up married to Hadass. I can’t even begin to tell you how entertaining that dialogue was. Ha.
And let’s talk about the songs. The songs are terrible. ‘Papa, Can You Hear Me’ is passable but the rest are awful and Barbra is the only one who sings a line in the entire movie and not just sings but acts like she is in a cabaret, really mugging it up to the camera. And the songs are so obviously lip synced and often are her thoughts being sung while she stares longingly at Patinkin. It felt like a silent movie sometimes she was so over the top!
And the lyrics are awful. The rhymes were particularly embarrassing. I especially liked
“Who cares when the food’s so delicious
‘Not to mention these beautiful dishes”
“A matched set- from France yet
No wonder he loves her,
No wonder to me
With ribbons and laces
In all the right places,”
And these silly lyrics all while Barbra is acting like she is singing the Star Spangled Banner. Hilarious.
Yentle wants to be all things in the film. It is part drama, part coming of age, a musical, comedy, sex farce, romantic comedy and all Barbra. I thought the Mirror Has Two Faces was her most ridiculously entertaining movie but this may be even better (that movie has no songs). In Mirror she plays a woman who decides to marry a man with the agreement they won’t let sex get in the way. Ha! Only Barbra would think of these stories.
And the supposed empowering dialogue between Yentl and Avigdor is laughable. Barbra and Patinkin have decent chemistry and it is kind of fun to see them wonder about their gender identities but it is all so silly. From a modern audience you just want to say ‘make out already!’ because such a scene would fit in with the campy dialogue and dopey drama.
And the resolution is completely unbelievable. He’s angry and then looks into her eyes and see’s her true heart and all is right with the world. And he goes back to marry Hadass despite her having just been declaring her love for Yentl days before. It doesn’t matter because he’s learned the right way to treat his woman. (Plus, a day in soap opera Barbra time is like 3 years. We all know that). Ha!
It’s one of those movies that is tough to give a grade for because I can’t deny being entertained. It’s like watching a soap opera. It’s campy and in love with itself and it makes it kind of fun. There is absolutely no doubt that Barbra felt this was the most important movie ever made. I can’t believe that she won a Golden Globe for this nonsense and the film won for Best Comedy/Musical. The score won an Oscar and that included the lyrics! Must have been a rough year but then again who can resist the egomaniac that is Barbra.
Overall Grade- C-
Next month is Steve Martin in The Jerk