Friday, September 18, 2015
PRINCE OF TIDES, THE
(December 1991, U.S.)
In my entire film collection, I own only two...count 'em, TWO Barbra Streisand films, and I assure you, they are NOT FUNNY GIRL and YENTYL (as if!!!)! Musically, Barbara and I don't agree with my tastes (do you know I had to spend the entire Summer of 1981 listening to her "Guilty" album with Barry Gibb because my mother was just so totally in love with that record???), but I can confess to you now that she has often impressed me on screen, both as actor and director. Though not in my collection, the 1976 version of A STAR IS BORN and NUTS (1988, directed by her) were not entirely bad films. I've found her to be often quite funny in some comedies she made in the early 1970s (i.e. WHAT'S UP, DOC?). So when you finally add up the little bits and pieces of Barbra that I've enjoyed here and there, it's almost no wonder that THE PRINCE OF TIDES comes full circle with me for her both as an actor and director. Call it a "chick flick" if you will, but it's one of the most extraordinary dramas and love stories I've ever seen on screen. It's also the only film that I went to see with my mother in the year 1991 when I saw just about everything that was released in theaters! I point that out only because the story is in part of a man's strained relationship with his mother.
The pairing of Nick Nolte with Streisand is already a point that caught my attention at the time. Nolte, for me, was a man who dove the deep sea with Robert Shaw and shot up San Francisco with Eddie Murphy for forty-eight hours. In other words, a man's whose manner and voice were so rough and scraped, I just couldn't picture him in bed with Barbra (not that she isn't a sexy woman...for a Jewish woman, that is!). And yet, as a story of a man from the South and all of its traditions, quirks and the so-called "Southern ways", Nolte manages to fit the bill perfectly. In fact, as he personally narrates, his life is constantly dictated by the women in his life; a wife, three daughters, a sister, and a mother he still hasn't resolved his relationship with (when is that ever easy??). Tom Wingo (Nolte) is forced to go to New York City against his will when he learns that his sister Savannah (played by Melinda Dillon) has attempted suicide once again. She's alive, but he must now meet with her psychiatrist Susan Lowenstein (Streisand) to try and fill in the missing gaps of Savannah's memories of childhood and the traumatic experiences that have brought her to her depressed state of mind. Tom is reluctant to share because where he comes from, people either bury their painful troubles or laugh them off with cheap jokes, which is what Tom has become quite proficient at. Of course, as one would rightfully expect, what begins as reluctance and mistrust inevitably turns into a situation where Tom will not only open up about the tormented family history, but his own demons as well, which actually involve a brutal rape of him and his entire family (seriously, why is it that in just about every story, the great big shocking secret is very often rape, molestation or incest??). Oh, yes, and let's not forget that Tom and Susan fall in love, too. I mean, come on! You had to expect that to happen even if you didn't take a good look at the movie poster!
Returning to Nick Nolte's rough-edged character for a moment, it perhaps makes complete sense that he is the way he is because it makes the softened, evolved character that comes to take shape all the more accepting and engaging. Were he the same cynical bastard he starts out as in the beginning of the film, then the story would likely not follow it's proper and expected course of action. Dramatic characters are meant to change, and change drastically. And even while the two we've come to care about throughout the film fall deeply in love with each other, it's still important to remember that very often in life, some things will never change at all, most commonly a man's commitment to the family he holds very dear. Tom's marriage may be troubled and he may be in love with another woman from New York City, but even as he evolves into someone new, it would seem that you still can't take a Southern man away from his beloved South. We are ultimately the product of our physical environment, as well as the family we're a part of...like it or not!
When you consider that during the holiday movie season of 1991, when this film was up against family fluff like HOOK, Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST and the Steve Martin remake of FATHER OF THE BRIDE, it's no wonder that THE PRINCE OF TIDES became such a critical and Oscar-nominated success and rightfully so! Nolte and Streisand give the best performance of their careers, in my opinion! Even Jason Gould (Barbra's real-life son) gives an impressive performance as Susan's son who (rather expectedly) resents his mother's position in his life, which is pretty much what we would expect from any snot-nose, modern teenager, yes? In the end, the film explores not only character change and love, but also the way we ultimately relate to all the women in our lives from the moment we enter this world. As such, I can't help but take a moment to examine my own female-related situations in life. I'll get back to you as soon as I've figures them all out!
And so, to Barbra Streisand, I say thanks for finally impressing me with your talents that don't involve your musical vocal cords. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS may have taken home the big best picture Oscar for 1991, but in my opinion, it should have been THE PRINCE OF TIDES. As Mike Myers once said on Saturday Night Live, "It was butta!"
Favorite line or dialogue:
Monique: "Susan, I can't believe you'd let Bernard play a game that might hurt his hands."
Susan Lowenstein: "And I can't believe you'd come to my house when everyone knows you're fucking my husband!"