YENTL (1983)

(a “film with music” review by Timothy J. Verret)

I could have just as well called this, “THE personal triumph of the illustrious and incomparable Barbra Streisand” review, but I went with “film with music,” because that is what Barbra called her film, YENTL. PLEASE NOTE: I am a HUGE Barbra Streisand fan so if you’re expecting me to say anything bad about Barbra and/or YENTL, you might want to stop reading this film review NOW! 😉

YENTL is simply ALL STREISAND! She is the actress (and actor, as she plays a boy), director, producer, and sings every song in the film. Some might say this about Barbra for YENTL: “What an ego!!!!” I say this about Barbra for YENTL: “What a talent!!!!” Barbra worked on this film for five years before she took to standing behind and in front of the camera for filming. When the filming of YENTL was completed, Barbra showed it to Steven Spielberg and after watching it, he said, “Don’t change one frame of this film. It’s the greatest directorial accomplishment of a film since Orson Welle’s CITIZEN KANE.” What a compliment, as many consider CITIZEN KANE one of the greatest films ever made! And Barbra deserved this comparison, because this is all very, VERY true about YENTL.

Before I begin the review, on a more personal note, when YENTL made it to the theatre in my hometown (I was 16 or 17 years old), I asked my mom to pick me up from high school for the 4:30pm show and not to bother picking me up until after 10, because I knew I would stay for two showings back to back. It was the best 6-7 hours I have ever spent in a theatre watching any film. I had bought the film soundtrack before the movie made it to the theatre, so I knew every song in YENTL by heart, and that coupled with the “heart” of YENTL (and my heart for Barbra) made these 6-7 hours a breathtaking and unparalleled movie-going experience for me.

For those not in the know about the plot of the film, YENTL is about Yentl, a girl who has this boundless thirst for the mysteries of the universe at the turn of the 20th century but because this is forbidden to women of this time, she can’t thirst for these mysteries. That is until Yentl’s father dies, when Yentl disguises herself as a boy to study the Talmud in a Yeshiva school. Then, Avigdor, her male study partner, shows up and love shows up and then it gets pretty messy, as is often the case when love is felt and pursued. It’s precisely that this kind of love is so important that it is often pretty messy. Barbra, in concert, called YENTL, “a love story about boy meets girl, girl loves boy, girl loses boy, girl marries girl because girl loves boy, and if you want to see how all that turns out, you need to rent the movie. It’s just an old-fashioned love story….very 90s.” Love that!!!! I agree. And you’ll have to rent the DVD to see how it all turns out, as Barbra states, and I promise you it all turns out so very lovely!

Anyone who would say Barbra Streisand can’t sing, I absolutely would have no idea what they are talking about. Yes, Barbra CAN sing and she sings beautifully in this film, more so than any other time I’ve heard Barbra sing (and I’ve heard Barbra sing beautifully SO MANY TIMES!). Barbra calling YENTL, “a film with music,” took the film out of traditional musicals because although Barbra sings in the film, she only sings when others are not around. It’s a musical inner monologue that Barbra was going for here. Some critics said she sang too much but, once again, if one sings as beautifully and angelically as Barbra Streisand, please don’t complain about her singing too much, okay? Especially when doing so in this film only serves to further the plot. Now, this might be because I’m a HUGE fan, but check this out: I saw YENTL again after that first movie-going experience with many friends, and at exactly the same moment in the film when Barbra was singing, my friends almost unanimously word-for-word said, “Boy, she sure can sing!” Yes, indeed! And check this out: Just as I typed all of this, YENTL playing on my TV (hence, writing this review) just played the very exact moment my friends commented on. Thank you, God, and thank you, Barbra! Oh! That means the part where Yentl tells Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin) that her name is not actually Anshel (her deceased brother’s name she took to study) but instead Yentl, and that she loves him, and then he tells her he couldn’t figure out why he always wanted to touch her so much, is coming up! And then there’s that sharing of their “hushed” feelings for each other that is filmed by Barbra in glorious close-ups, sweet tenderness and exquisite longing for real, true love. I am such a happy camper right now!

“Dear Barbra: Thank you so much for making YENTL. You just won my heart with this film, as you have won my heart in everything you have done. I simply LOVE you, simply Streisand! Thanks for inspiring me to create fearlessly (as you always did and do) and helping me to see that, “yes, indeed, you, Barbra Streisand, are certainly somebody special….and that means certainly so am I” (Check this out yet again: Just as I typed “so am I,” Barbra just sang this exact same wording in the film. Okay, God, now I MOST definitely hear you talking to me!).

YENTL is Barbra Streisand and ONLY Barbra Streisand and for this Barbra Streisand fan writing this YENTL film review, I apply the Grace of God to say, “this is more than sufficient enough for me” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Barbra is, in fact, a sort of grace for me.

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