Movie Reviews

Movie Review: The Prince of Tides – Streisand Should Stick to Directing

Written by Pat Conroy and Becky Johnston
Directed by Barbra Streisand

For years I’d heard positive things about the film Prince of Tides but didn’t bring myself to sit down and watch it. I have never been a particular fan of either Barbra Streisand or Nick Nolte, so it was just something that I bypassed again and again. Finally, it came up in conversation and two people I work with recommended it to me, so I finally sat down with it.

Lots of families have secrets, and most movies deal with secrets which have internal causes, such as abuse and deceptions which have been allowed to continue unchallenged. Very rarely a film shows how a secret forced on the family from outside also tears it apart. Usually when a family is victimized from the outside, Hollywood shows them on a course for retribution and dealing with it in the public eye, rather than internalizing it with the family members.

Prince of Tides is the story of one such family. Nick Nolte is Tom Wingo, the only surviving son in what could simply be called a dysfunctional family. He is called to New York when his sister, Savannah (portrayed by Melinda Dillon) tries to commit suicide, and not for the first time. Her psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein (portrayed by Barbra Streisand) wants to meet with Tom to find out the deep, dark family secrets that Savannah has repressed.

Tom isn’t having such a great life either. His wife, Sally (portrayed by Blythe Danner) is tired of the distance Tom seems to put between himself and her as well as their children. His coaching and teaching career is going down the toilet as well. His mother (portrayed by Kate Nelligan) refuses to go to New York and deal with Savannah’s issues. As if Tom didn’t have enough on his plate, this chore falls on his shoulders as well.

In talking with Susan about Savannah, Tom is closed off at first. Sensing there is more beneath the surface, Susan presses but Tom remains closed off. She asks Tom to coach her son Bernard (portrayed by Streisand’s real-life son, Jason Gould) who has been trained in classic violin like his father (portrayed by Jeroen Krabbe) but yearns to do some of the things ordinary boys his age do, like play football.

As Susan spends more and more time with Tom as well as sees how he is with Bernard, a real chemistry seems to develop between the two. Despite being a therapist, Susan’s marriage has it’s own issues and she’s hungry for companionship. I can’t imagine any therapist I know being able to subvert ethics and get involved with the married sibling of a patient, but it happens and helps to break down the walls that have been holding in the secrets for years.

Prince of Tides plods at times, and that’s It’s biggest detriment. Although the relationship between Tom and Susan seems implausible from an ethical standpoint, it develops quite well throughout the film and doesn’t feel the least bit rushed or forced.

This role is quite a different one for Nolte, whom I usually picture as a tough, gritty cop. He’s given a great script helped along by a terrific Director, and he really rises to the challenge of the role. It makes me think that both he and Hollywood sold himself short for years up until this point. He portrayed a similar role in Affliction but that was taking a character affected by years of abuse and slowly turning him darker, rather than breaking out of the burden. I like how he grew in the role here as Tom much better and he seemed to develop the role more smoothly.

Streisand was good in her role, even if I felt much of her character’s progression was implausible and just a plot device. It’s hard to imagine in this day and age of the privacy laws that a psychiatrist would share so much about a patient’s mental state with a sibling. Her actions in this seem somewhat contrived at times and I don’t think the writing for the role of Susan was as strong as it was for Tom, although the chemistry between the two did seem to come together quite well.

The other roles are handled fine, with the exception of Jason Gould. I know he got the role cause of Mommy because there wasn’t much to him as an actor. There wasn’t much to the role, either, but he didn’t bring anything special.

As a Director, Streisand did a terrific job. The lighting and camera angles are excellent. She really captured the flavor of the story, and not just in her familiar setting in New York. She did a great job with the southern and country settings as well.

Prince of Tides isn’t a movie I would seek out to watch again and again, but it was satisfying to see it once. If you haven’t had the chance to see it yet, it’s a good film and well worth the time.


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