The Prince of Tides is a romantic psychological melodrama that pits the southern
gothic ethos of William Falkner against the theories of Sigmnud Freud on New York
City's clean and cool east side.
Nick Nolte plays Tom Wingo, a middle-aged football coach and high school English
teacher from the deep South whose marriage is disintegrating. He can't talk to his
wife, he doesn't know what he feels, and he can't explain why.
Tom doesn't think he amounts to much when compared to the passionate lives his sister
and older brother led.
Alas, Tom's brother was killed as he took an armed stand against the redevelopment
of the tidal basin where the three passed their tumultuous childhhod, caught in a
raging war between a socially ambitious mother and a violent ne'er-do-well father.
Tom's suicidal sister, Savannah, ran away from the South and off to New York to write
poetry. When Savannah tries to commit suicide again Tom is the only family member
willing to leave the South and venture to New York to help her psychiatrist, played
by Barbara Streisand, understand the darkness in Savannah's life.
Well, kids, it's the movies. Streisand's Dr. Susan Lowenstein has a controlling no-nonsense
attitude and keeps her shoulder pads always firmly in place - they never choose the
worst possible moment to slip and make her look like Charles Laughton in the Hunchback
of Notre Dame as they do on most people.
Even when Nolte makes a pass during a downtown party with an S&M leather queen,
a moustached Village People clone who've escaped from a 70s museum, the shoulder
boosters stay put and Streisand never loses her cool.
Icy on the outside, vulnerable on the inside, Streisand's Lowenstein is actually
as lonely and lost as Nolte's Wingo. Locked into a dead marriage with a self-obsessed,
internationally famous violinist, and unable to communicate with her teenage son,
Streisand hires Nolte to teach the boy football. Nolte and Streisand end up in each
If you're expecting a realistic study of family crisis and the tortures ancient childhood
pain can visit on adults, Prince of Tidees isn't it. "There is no crime beyond
forgiveness," Nolte tells his striving mother, who could have given Lady Macbeth
a few pointers. Prince of Tides preaches the 80s pop psychology message that all
wounds can be healed through forgiveness, even if the creator of those wounds is
still acting like a total prat.
Because it is, after all, a movie, Prince of Tides ascribes Savannah's problems to
one melodramatic incident, rather than to living for eighteen years in a family with
an incredibly high fruitcake count. Pinning Savannah's problems on one anguished
moment makes a good dramatic structure for the story, but dishonest psychology.
As both director and star Streisand shoots her better profile (the left), although
her camerawork is always throughly professional. Throughout the movie she waves and
weaves her hands like a Cambodian dancer, trying not to break her fake nails. She
and Nolte both give honourable performances, as does George Carlin as the stereotyped
Greenwich Village homosexual next door.
But who expects reality in a Hollywood movie? Prince of Tides is well made Hollywood
pablum, a two hour romantic escape where the bad guys pay for their misdeeds, true
evil comes from outside the home, and the soft-focus, richly lit sex scenes look
like an underwear layout for Victoria's Secret.
Grab a couple of candy bags from the concession stand, sink into a balcony seat and
descend into an enjoyable sugar shock.