Sunday 9 April 2017

Movie Review: The Prince Of Tides (1991)

A romantic melodrama, The Prince Of Tides spares no familial agony in search of emotional scar tissue, and delivers a patchy exercise in pop psychology.

Unemployed teacher and football coach Tom Wingo (Nick Nolte) of South Carolina endured a tough rural childhood, with his parents Lila (Kate Nelligan) and Henry (Brad Sullivan), a shrimp farmer, locked in a vicious cycle of spousal abuse. Tom's older brother Luke has since died, while his sister Savannah (Melinda Dillon) is depressed and suicidal. Tom is now facing a crisis of his own, with his marriage to Sally (Blythe Danner) seemingly drifting to an end due to his emotional neglect.

After another attempt by Savannah to kill herself, Tom travels to New York City to meet with her psychiatrist Dr. Susan Lowenstein (Barbra Streisand), who is trying to unlock the hidden traumas in Savannah's early life. Tom obliges, and start to reveal episodes from his childhood while falling in love with Susan. He establishes a friendship with her brooding teenage son Bernard (Jason Gould) and uncovers Susan's unhappy marriage to violin maestro Herbert Woodruff (Jeroen KrabbĂ©).

An adaptation of the Pat Conroy novel directed by Streisand, The Prince Of Tides takes itself far too seriously as it wades into some laughable territory. There is no doubting the slick quality of the production, and Streisand constructs an elaborate journey into a thick jungle of overlapping psychological catastrophes spanning two generations. There are enough damaged souls and cracked psyches to fill an academic treatise on familial disasters, and the never ending revelations make for compelling viewing of the train wreck variety.

But the premise of a psychiatrist arm-twisting the brother of her patient into revealing childhood memories is fundamentally shaky, and the fiery hot and cold interactions between them never ring true. Tom's big breakdown scene on Susan's couch falls flat, and overall the film loses its way in pretty spectacular fashion in the final stages. The romance elements pour thick syrup over all else, and the original narrative drivers are effectively forgotten.

Regardless, there is enough value to maintain engagement. Nick Nolte delivers one of his better career performances, and Tom's excessive use of cynicism and humour to cover up a childhood of hurt is the one emotional part of the film that does work. The relationship between Tom and his wife Sally contains compelling nuggets of carnage, and more of the film should have been invested in their rocky marriage. Finally the flashback scenes are the foundations of the film and what Streisand does present is sharp and effective, but this is another aspect of Tom's story that suffers from increasing neglect as the film progresses.

A fly on the psychiatrist's wall, The Prince Of Tides is sometimes provocative but just as often cringe worthy.

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