‘Yentl” gave Barbra Streisand the ultimate vanity project – and yet one which asked her to surrender every scrap of her awkward beauty.
The 1983 film, recently re-released on DVD, let Streisand direct, co-write and croon a bevy of songs for the story of a Polish Jew living in a time when only men were allowed to educate themselves.
Yentl’s dear father (Nehemiah Persoff) knew his daughter craved information, so he allowed her to sneak in some studying with the drapes tightly shut.
When he passes, Yentl makes a bold decision – she’ll disguise herself as a man in order to keep on studying.
“Yentl” dresses its star up in boyish attire, but no other effort is made to make her convincingly male. Streisand wisely dials down her performance, and the audience must accept her as a young male scholar.
Somehow, it works.
And, like Sean Penn before her, Streisand’s performance can win over even those who’ve grown weary of her bare-knuckled political talk.
Yentl fools everyone, including a fellow scholar named Avigdor (the great Mandy Patinkin). Naturally, the two quickly bond, and while Yentl fears she’s falling for her new friend she realizes romance could never bloom between them.
Or could it?
Endless complications ensue, including the arrival of Amy Irving’s Oscar nominated performance as Avigdor’s beloved.
“Yentl” ladles on the fable elements a mite too thick at times, like the opening sequence in which a book seller cries out, “Serious books for men, picture books for women.”
Naturally, Yentl isn’t just ahead of her time. She might as well be transported from a 1983 NOW rally to Poland circa 1904.
And yet you’re invested in Yentl’s story every step of the way. The film’s songs are more or less interchangeable, but it’s hard not to be moved when Streisand’s voice is at full throttle.
“Yentl” isn’t a classic. It’s merely a testament to Streisand’s refusal to let go of a story that haunted her for years, and for which she ultimately proved to be the perfect match.