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This is no Prince of Tides
The Prince of Tides (1991) was my first Barbra Streisand movie. Nick Nolte plays a modern Southern gentleman with a secret pain, and Babs, a New York psychiatrist treating Nolte’s fragile sister. Following the sister’s latest suicide attempt, they search for the roots of her troubles while struggling valiantly to keep their hands off each other. PoT is a gateway drug to Barbra Streisand for those uninitiated in her mysteries. She is revealed as sophisticated and unnervingly sexy. (I won’t waste time arguing with the gaslighters who deny Streisand’s sex appeal. For those philistines, I can only quote Jeremiah 5:21: Hear this now, O foolish people, Without understanding, Who have eyes but see not, And who have ears, And hear not.) Her pairing with Nick Nolte elevated the man who would later become famous for the following mugshot:
Behold the frightening power of Barbra Streisand! For a brief period of time, she transformed Florida man into the sensitive and courageous Prince of Tides. This review is not about PoT, an unforgettable movie where Streisand shines. It’s about Yentl (1983), a movie I wanted and expected to love, but unfortunately, Yentl is no PoT.
Yentl, played by Streisand, is a Jewish woman living in Eastern Europe in 1904 who wants to study the Talmud, a compilation of sacred Jewish teachings. Women are excluded from such study, but her father teaches her in secret. When her father passes, instead of doing what has been long expected of her (marrying a man, keeping a home, and producing children), Yentl chops her hair, dons a pair of scrivener glasses, and, dressed as a young man, sets out to enroll in a yeshiva, a school where she can study the Talmud and other Jewish texts.
By this point in the movie, I was regretting having started it for reasons I’ll discuss later, but then Inigo fucking Montoya--Mandy Patinkin--appears! He’s Avigdor, a Yeshiva student who defends the delicate Yentl, who is going by the name Anshel, from a bully. After rescuing Anshel, Avigdor helps “him” enroll at his school and becomes his study buddy. Avigdor isn’t quite Inigo Montoya in a yamaka, but he is exciting and exudes energy and masculinity. Yentl/Anshel(/and probably Barbra herself) falls in love with him, and Avigdor starts falling for Anshel. It begins with what Avigdor later confesses is an unusual amount of touching and culminates with him tackling and mounting Anshel in a field. Avigdor then immediately strips off his clothes and plunges into a river to cool his burning loins and then, dripping wet, stands unclothed inches from Anshel, who is seated and thus dealing with a faceful of Avigdor’s patinkin. Mandy Patinkin carries the movie because the Streisand from PoT is nowhere to be seen.
Barbra is not allowed to be Barbra in this movie. She’s trapped inside Anshel, a character with two facets at best. Anshel exists to study the Talmud and to fall in love with Avigdor. As elucidated earlier, the main tenet of our faith is that Barbra is sophisticated and unnervingly sexy. She’s not an introverted nerd. She’s restrained in the movie, bound by the simple dimensions of her character’s boring alter ego. When she is not nerding out on the Talmud, she is stamping out the only thing about her character that is interesting, which is her growing passion for Avigdor.
Additionally, Yentl is difficult to watch because of its implausibility. The secret at the heart of PoT is absolutely insane, but feels perfectly plausible because we expect dark tragedies to unfold in the deep south during the distant past. The secret at the heart of Yentl does not work for even a moment. We are not the foolish people chastised in Jeremiah 5:21. Barbra Streisand does not pass for a man. Anshel’s features are too fine, hands too perfectly manicured, voice too much like a songbird. Streisand would have needed prosthetics on the level of Charlize Theron in Monster and Billy Bob Thorton’s voice from Swingblade to pass for a man. Not only is the deception unconvincing for the viewer, but we are asked to believe that all the other characters are completely fooled by Yentl. I hate saying this, but this movie asks you to suspend belief in the way the Wayans brothers asked us to do so in White Chicks. And, without giving too much away, the lengths to which Yentl/Anshel takes this flimsy deception is absurd.
Yentl is a forgettable movie. (It’s actually a musical, but the music is also uninspired. Can anyone even remember a single line after “Papa, can you hear me?”) I wonder though if the order in which I saw the movies contributed to my disdain for Yentl. If I had started with Yentl--if PoT hadn’t awakened my appreciation for Streisand’s sophistication and unnerving sexiness--perhaps I could have viewed Anshel as a passable male, and I would have been able to enjoy the movie.
Yentl Written by Jack Rosenthal and Barbra Streisand; Directed by Barbra Streisand
The Prince of Tides
Written by Becky Johnston and Pat Conroy; Directed by Barbra Streisand
Stray Thoughts from the Editor
A curve ball this week from Dae, and possibly our first anti-recommendation (not quite a bad review).
Next week will be the last week of Movie Night for 2022! I’ll be recapping 2022 next week, as well as recommending one final masterwork of Jewish cinema. Work on Movie Night for 2023 is well underway, let me know what you’d like to see more or less of and as always, what you’re enjoying in theaters and at home. Happy holidays, see you next week!
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