I broke with my stated goal for today. Today was supposed to be another full day of watching films leaving The Criterion Channel, but after the first film being from that selection, I made a pivot to watch my first 2021 film with hours remaining in the first month of the year.
Yentl (1983, Dir. Barbra Streisand)
I feel like had Streisand wanted, she could have held most of the Disney renaissance in court over the films’ similarities to Yentl. A musical where a young person undertakes a hidden identity to seek out a more fulfilling life and, at some point, sings an “I want” song is essentially the one sentence plot of every film from The Little Mermaid (1989, Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker) to Mulan (1998, Dir Tony Bancroft and Barry Cook). The Mulan comparison is especially relevant as the hidden identity in Yentl also involves the titular character cross dressing to be taken for a man.
All the comparisons to Disney films aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Disney went to that well repeatedly because it’s a reliable bit of storytelling. A person longing for more than they are allowed feeds into an audience’s internalized insecurities, and Streisand sells it better than anyone. Her enigmatic persona and booming soprano create a welcoming picture, even if the subject matter, wanting to study Talmudic Law, is a little opaque.
After four feature films for The Criterion Channel in three days, I couldn’t let the new Carey Mulligan film go unwatched any longer.
The Dig (2021, Dir. Simon Stone)
January films aren’t supposed to be this good. Maybe that assumption will prove to be dated in a post-COVID world, but at least in the old world, January was a dumping ground for studios to drop films with little prospects. And while I don’t believe that The Dig will be making any big Oscar plays, it still greatly outperformed my expectations for a film from this release slot.
As ready to go to bat for the film as I am, it’s not unimpeachable. The love triangle between Lily James, Ben Chaplin, and Johnny Flynn is more distracting than of benefit to the film, but my misgivings are diminutive in respects to what does work with the film. What works in the film are the performances. Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes both turn in fantastic performances, and while I may not be the biggest fan of their plot threads, Lily James and Johnny Flynn give wonderful supporting roles. Mulligan’s performance in particular is brimming with emotional depth. She perfectly balances her character’s poshness with her personal strife and an unending curiosity. A wonderful first film of the year.