Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Amy Irving in Yentl

Amy Irving received her first and only Oscar nomination to date for her performance as Hadass Vishkower in Barbra Streisand's Yentl. There are certain nominated performances that come with a certain reputation attached to them. They range from laudatory (Patty Duke) to nonexistent (any of the women from 1937) to divisive (Anna Paquin). However, Amy Irving's performance comes attached not only with negative word of mouth but also the dubious 'honor' of being one of the two performances nominated for both an Oscar and a Razzie.What isn't often talked about (due to the trite nature of the awards) is that the Razzies make many of the same "mistakes" that the Oscars do, namely they like to give statues to names and careers rather than individual performances. Recent undeserving "winners" including Jessica Alba who won for four not that bad performances, The Jonas Brothers for a concert movie, and just like Oscar itself, Sandra Bullock for a performance that wasn't nearly as bad as her competition (namely Miley Cyrus and Megan Fox).

But to get back to Amy Irving, you probably have deduced that I didn't hate this performance nearly as much as most, and actually found it surprisingly haunting and unique. The role of Hadass Vishkower is one that both is and isn't demanding, because for a majority of the film, Hadass is purposely very passive and less a character than an object of desire for Avigdor. Irving is forced to rely on her physical appearance and glances to convey any sort of added layers that the character might possess. And, in a very interesting way she does. The number of adjectives that can describe Amy Irving's performance are infinite, but some of the best include: elegant, poised, subtly sexual, erotic, haunting, mysterious, intriguing, creepy, strange, and fascinating. Her facial expressions and looks serve to always keep you guessing on what exactly she is thinking and feeling, and part of the fun of this performance is that you never feel you understand or know Hadass, and that is how Jewish women were viewed.

But yes, because Yentl is such a dreadful film, Irving has some problems that she just cannot work past. After her and 'Anchal'/Yentl get married, we are forced to watch countless scenes of Irving lusting after Barbra Streisand that are not only painfully awkward but also not one ounce believable. The attraction that she has to 'Anchal' is more based on the actions of the character and less on Streisand's feminine performance, and you can feel it between the two characters. They feel more like sisters from the very beginning of their 'relationship', and Irving never manages to make any sort of romantic sparks feel believable. Part of the problem is that these scenes just keep coming one after another for quite some time, and it makes both Irving and Streisand seem gradually more worse scene after scene. By the end all that interest that I had felt for Hadass in the beginning fell to the wayside as I grew bored with her. No, that isn't Irving's fault completely, but Streisand's as both a director and actress.

As you may have guessed reading this review, it is difficult to put into words why I liked Irving's performance so much. With a minimal amount of dialogue and a character that is basically a Stepford Wife, Irving creates an impression that is both beautiful and perplexing, in the best way possible. Despite a weak second half, I have to be honest and admit that this performance left me meditating on it for days afterwards, and if that isn't a good performance that what is? 3.5/5 Thelmas.

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