Director: Barbra Streisand
Cast: Nick Nolte, Barbra Streisand, Blythe Danner, Kate Nelligan, George Carlin
Released: December 25, 1991
Best Picture (what? - lost to The Silence of the Lambs)
Best Actor - Nick Nolte (huh? - lost to Anthony Hopkins for The Silence of the Lambs)
Best Supporting Actress - Kate Nelligan (who? - lost to Mercedes Ruehl for The Fisher King)
Best Adapted Screenplay - Pat Conroy and Becky Johnston (lost to Ted Tally for The Silence of the Lambs)
Best Score - James Newton Howard (lost to Alan Menken for Beauty and the Beast)
Best Art Direction (lost to Bugsy)
Best Cinematography (lost to JFK)
As you can tell from my snide remarks, I wasn't a huge fan of this movie. It wasn't the worst thing ever, but I was expecting something different. To be honest, I wasn't sure what I was expecting. I only knew two things about this movie: it starred Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte and it was based on a novel. When I saw the name "Pat Conroy" I assumed that was a woman, but no, it's a man. I'm probably being sexist because my mind immediately assumed it was a woman since while not a romance, it has elements of romance in it. Plus it just seemed like the kind of story a woman would write. (There I am being sexist again). The movie is melodramatic and schmaltzy, but even after two and a half hours I was left saying, "That's it?" According to Goodreads, the book is 679 pages so they obviously left a lot of material out or didn't embellish on it. Apparently the book spans forty years while the movie is maybe a few months with flashbacks. The DVD I had skipped at one point and I missed a good twelve minutes of the movie. This happened the first time Nolte's character goes back to South Carolina. But I'll back up a minute here..
Nolte plays Tom Wingo, a forty something Southern man with an unhappy childhood. He is so over the top and overacts in this and his Southern accent is just the worst! Don't get me wrong, he sounds Southern, but it almost sounds like he's doing a parody of someone with a southern accent. It has that stereotypical vibe to it. I knew this movie took place by the ocean, hence the title, but for some reason, I thought it was Cape Cod or Nantucket, I don't know, I was just getting this Massachusetts vibes, I guess, but no, I was way too north. It's South Carolina. Where, I have no idea, although he does mention he has to drive through Charleston to get home. The Goodreads summary says it takes place in the South Carolina low country wherever that is. But the majority of the movie takes place in New York anyway. Why? Well, because Tom's twin sister, Savannah, lives in New York as a writer and tried to commit suicide. (Not her first time). Her psychologist, Dr. Susan Lowenstein (Streisand), wants to talk to a family member to "fill in the missing pieces of [Savannah's] life" since she has blocked out many of her memories because a lot of them were pretty horrific. Now I am no psychologist, but isn't that a breach of confidentiality? Can a therapist just call a patient's family member and discuss things with them, even if (especially if!) the patient in question is unable to speak for themselves? (Savannah was in the hospital while Tom was talking to Dr. Lowenstein). I'm sure this is better explained in the book.
Like I mentioned, there are flashback, but there's only a handful and they only last about five minutes. It seems like most movies that go back and forth between present day and a flashback will have the flashback for several scenes. A good recent example of this is Saving Mr. Banks. Another good example is Fried Green Tomatoes. Those flashbacks actually seemed part of the movies and not just random clips they threw in at the last minute. The flashbacks in The Prince of Tides were just very quick vignettes; it all felt very jarring. From them, we learn that Tom and Savannah and their older brother Luke had an abusive and alcoholic father and a mother who copes with her husband's incessant screaming by feeding him dog food (clever, I'll admit) and sweeping things under the rug. It is mentioned that Luke is deceased but, unless it was mentioned in the 12 minutes of film I wasn't able to see, we never find out when or how he died.
There's a flashback (that jumps to and from the present) that Tom tells Dr. Lowenstein and it's the first time he's ever told anybody about it. One evening when he and his sister were 13 years old and at home with their mom, three convicts who had escaped from a prison came in and raped all of them. Now I was not expecting this at all. The dark things about this movie had been a father who screamed at his family and a suicide attempt and then comes this very disturbing scene where little kids are getting raped? Where the hell did this come from? And I was confused...how did these men get out of jail? Was this the first house they came across and it just so happened to be occupied by one defenseless woman and two defenseless children? It just seemed so...random. I have a feeling there's more to this story in the book. At least I hope so! Luke wasn't there when it happened, but he came home while it was happening and luckily he had a shotgun so he was able to kill two of the men while his mother stabbed her assailant. They buried the bodies and the mother told them to never speak of this incident. I can understand why they didn't tell the father (not sure where he was during all this) because he wouldn't care, but I don't understand why they never told the police. A few days later, this is the first time Savannah tries to kill herself. She moved to New York because she wanted to get away from the South (understandably!) and became a poet and author to express her pain through writing...or something like that.
I looked up the book's synopsis on Wikipedia and there was a paragraph about the rape scene. Tom and Savannah were 18 when it happened, which is still horrible, but it seems like the movie had them be 13 for the shock value. It sounds like they knew one of the guys who assaulted them before he went to prison so there is some history there and the older brother doesn't kill the men with his shotgun, but instead the family apparently owns a pet tiger and he released it on the men and they were mauled to death instead of shot to death. I'm almost kind of intrigued to read the book now. It's gotten a lot of good reviews on Goodreads and not surprisingly everyone says it's better than the movie. (Well, duh!)
Tom's wife back in South Carolina (Blythe Danner) is having an affair and Susan's famous concert violinist husband is having an affair and eventually Tom and Susan will have an affair with each other. He stars flirting with her first, but she wants to keep things strictly professional. So she does this by inviting him to dinner at the most expensive, most fancy, most romantic French restaurant. Because that screams "business meeting". She also invites him to one of her and her husband's pretentious dinner parties at their fancy penthouse and the film doesn't even try to make the husband have any depth. He was just a one-dimensional jerk. I can only hope he's better written in the novel! He acts like he's better than Tom and insults him being Southern until Tom takes his one million dollar violin and threatens to drop it from the balcony unless he apologizes to him for the way he treated him and his wife for cheating on her. This is the last we see of the husband and when Tom and Susan's passionate love affair begins. Now I thought this is what the movie was centered around (from reading the back of the DVD box), but the entire romance lasts about ten minutes (maybe it was longer, but it seemed like ten minutes) and it's all done as a cliched montage: there they are making love in bed, there they are making love in front of the fireplace, there they are making love in a bubble bath, there they are having a picnic, there they are having fun outside playing football, there they are horseback riding. And end montage. (Okay, maybe some of those scenes didn't happen, but I can't remember if they did or not!) Then we get the scene where Tom goes back home and says good-bye to Susan and she cries and hugs him and then they go on with their lives. He returns to his wife and three daughters in South Carolina and I don't know what happened to Susan. She probably went back to her jerk of a husband for all I know. And then the movie ended and I was like, "Seriously? That's it?"
Here's some other random tidbits about the movie: George Carlin plays a gay man who is a friend of Susan's and throws fabulous parties. It was really weird seeing him in this because I knew him as a comedian and while the movie may try to attempt to throw a funny line or two in there, it is no way a comedy. It just felt like very random casting.
There's a lot of screaming and yelling and shouting in this movie. My God, EVERYBODY SCREAMS AT EACH OTHER ALL THE TIME! IT'S SO OVERDRAMATIC! Tom screams at Dr. Lowenstein, she screams back at him; Tom screams at his mother, she screams back at him; Tom screams at his wife, she screams back at him; his father screams at everyone in the flashbacks. I bet that 75% of Nolte's acting is just shouting at someone!
I cannot believe this movie was nominated for Best Picture. It is a hot mess! And Nick Nolte nominated for Best Actor is laughable too as he overacts in pretty much every scene. Skip this one.