With the news of Barbra Streisand’s potential return to acting and directing now is as good a time as any to dip back into her history as a director and I don’t think there’s any place better to do that than with her 1992 Best Picture nominee The Prince of Tides. Adapted from Pat Conroy’s novel – which I have not read – the film takes a look at Tom Wingo, a typical Southern man with a typically troubled Southern past. If forced to put it into a box, the genre of family drama would be most apt for the tale though such a hackneyed title would belie the earnestness with which the film plays out. As a book to film adaptation The Prince of Tides is notable for inciting criticism from fans of the novels who were not enthusiastic about the shifting of the main plot from younger Tom to older Tom – because, god forbid a novel take licenses with adaptation.
Barbra's Yentl is an auspicious musical of the eighties and her The Mirror Has Two Faces is amusing in its over-the-top ridiculousness but it’s this straight drama of Tides that really encapsulates her talents for direction. If you watch closely the three films on a loop you’d noticed her sensitivity to emotion but not histrionics. I smile at the almost dour browness of the mise en scène. Despite the lack of obvious beauty in the colour brown, there’s something soothing about how it blends it with everything and it’s the same with The Prince of Tides. It can never be accused of being especially inventive, but there’s a soothing nature about Streisand and company take the usual machinations of familial drama and makes it interesting to watch. At first glance it seems like something akin to nepotism having her as the lead (the role sort of screams out Sigourney Weaver) but Streisand is a strong actress and she shines especially bright in the latter half of the film.
If there’s one thing I’d praise Streisand for effusively in The Prince of Tides, although I’m not sure how much she’s responsible for it, it’s the uniform goodness of the performances. Nolte’s Oscar nominated performance is a treat, but it’s watching the supporting women on the side that’s the real prize. Kate Nelligan turns in a brilliant turn as Nolte’s mother, and Melinda Dillon’s fragility is acutely played but it’s Blythe Danner as the potentially estranged wife who I never forget. Her performance is so subtle, but lovely to watch and always makes me a bit sad that Danner never “made it” as a film actress. Watching Streisand elicit these type of performances without ever being insincere makes The Prince of Tides one more than worthy of estimation, and it’s a real shame she failed to garner an Oscar nod for Best Director – even if the film earned a picture nod. There’s no telling what, if anything, will become of Gypsy, but I have faith in Streisand – as a musician, as an actress, and as a director.
What did you think of Barbra's work in The Prince of Tides?