The Prince of Tides

Year: 1991
Studio: Columbia
Director: Barbra Streisand
Producer: Barbra Streisand
Writer: Pat Conroy
Cast: Nick Nolte, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Kate Nelligan, Jeroen Krabbé, Melinda Dillon, George Carlin

The bad news about Barbra Streisand's family drama tearjerker is that it hasn't held up well. Aside from some good performances the drama is a little hackneyed and the script spills over into midday movie disease of the week territory a few times.

The good news is that it's so full of emotion and love, its heart so shamelessly on its sleeve, I still can't help but love it. The end monologue when Tom Wingo (Nolte, who's so craggy 20 years later as I write these words it's hard to imagine he was ever an effective romantic lead) has found his place in the world is still one of the few cinematic moments that can make me cry.

Streisand and co-writer Pat Conroy distil the latter's doorstop novel down to movie length without missing any of the essential elements. Slowly-imploding former South Carolina teacher Tom wants nothing to do with his divorced parents, but he doesn't realise the extent to which his crippled emotions are pushing his wife Sally (Danner) away.

He's always enjoyed an icy civility with his drama-queen mother Lila (Nelligen), but when she visits to tell him his deeply troubled sister Savannah (Dillon) has attempted suicide again it's left to him to go to New York where she lived and try and unravel what drove her to it in a series of interviews with her therapist Susan (Streisand).

Tom faces a classic culture clash trying to ingratiate his down-home values, humour and old-fashioned charm into the uptight, neurotic New Yorker lifestyle, but despite their rocky start and his reluctance for the whole psychiatric movement, Tom and Susan start to fall in love.

Asides like the relationship he forges with her snide son Bernard and his mother's subsequent remarriage to a local rich man Tom hates are dealt with much quicker than they were in Conroy's book but they give the characters essential context. It's all interspersed with flashbacks to Tom and his family's upbringing in their beautiful but emotionally backwards South, and as Tom gets closer to revealing the terrible secret in the Wingo family closet he and Susan's passion for each other breaks. In saving his sister, Tom might destroy his own family.

Streisand's direction is fairly pedestrian and she doesn't hold back on gleefully unsubtle payoffs. The dinner party with her famous but awful husband, composer Herbert (Krabbe) is a short revenge vignette that will have you pumping your fist in victory for Tom when he puts the creep in his place and rescues Susan in the process.

It's like one of those movies you discover by accident as a kid and love for the rest of your life no matter how dated or bad. I liked the book so much I really wanted to see the movie, and no matter how many times I watch it now it still closes slowly around my heart and squeezes.

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