(director/writer: Barbra Streisand; screenwriters: Jack Rosenthal/from story ”Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy” by Isaac Bashevis Singer; cinematographer: David Watkin; editor: Terry Rawlings; music: Alan Bergman/Marilyn Bergman/Michel Legrand; cast: Barbra Streisand (Yentl/Anshel), Mandy Patinkin (Avigdor) Amy Irving (Hadass), Nehemiah Persoff (Yentl’s father), Steven Hill (Hadass’ father), Robbie Barnett (Zelig), David De Keyser (Rabbi Zalman), Ruth Goring (Esther Rachel); Runtime: 134; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Barbra Streisand/Rusty Lemorande; MGM/UA Entertainment Company; 1983-UK)


Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Oy! A lumbering, overwrought and somewhat risible production that in all its bathos cries out for a flurry of Woody Allen neurotic Jewish jokes. This musical adaptation about a heroine with a secret is the directorial debut of Barbra Streisand (“The Prince of Tides”/”The Miracle Has Two Faces”) of the short story ”Yentl, the Yeshiva Boy” by the beloved Jewish writer Isaac Bashevis Singer. It tells of a young Eastern European woman, Yentl (Barbra Streisand), circa 1904, whose Torah scholar shtetl living father (Nehemiah Persoff) just died and who disguises herself as a boy in order to pursue her study of the Talmud at a yeshiva. She must disguise herself because girls are not allowed to study the Torah in the orthodox Jewish religion.

Yentl changes her name to Anshel and is quickly accepted into a community of young student scholars, with no suspicions of her gender. She falls in love with one of them, the personable Avigdor (Mandy Patinkin). He’s crazy about local rich girl Hadass (Amy Irving), but the girl’s father forbids him from marrying her. He thereby convinces Yentl to marry his girlfriend so that at least he can be around the two people he most loves as a visitor. The girlfriend also thinks Yentl is a boy, and they marry after a brief courtship. The tension mounts as Yentl must eventually reveal the truth.

One can at least give Streisand credit for a sincere performance and putting in a gallant effort in this personal film that evidently meant a lot to her. She’s the cowriter, star, only singer and coproducer. But the whole project, though handled with loving care, is heavy-handed, too often awkwardly executed and overlong. It was filmed on Czech locations and in the English studio.

Yentl won an Oscar for Best Song Score. It comes with twelve songs that include such songs as “Papa, Can You Hear Me?”, “Tomorrow Night” and “The Way He Makes Me Feel.”

Yentl Poster