The life of Fanny Brice, famed comedienne and entertainer of the early 1900s. We see her rise to fame as a Ziegfield girl, subsequent career and her personal life, particularly her relationship with Nick Arnstein.
A high-class call girl kills a customer in self-defense. To avoid scandal, her parents try to have her declared mentally incompetent. Not helping matters is that she is very distrustful of everybody, including her court-appointed attorney, and is very disruptive during her court hearings. Written by
Tony Berkoff <firstname.lastname@example.org>
It's hard to appreciate this film if you were raised on a strict diet of, say, Law & Order, The Practice, even Ally McBeal.
The courtroom conduct makes more modern viewers shout out our own relevance objections when Richard Dreyfuss fails to do so. In the light of what we're used to, the trial scenes are almost painfully inept--on both sides of the aisle. And nowadays, network TV has more wrenching depictions of child abuse story lines, but if it hadn't been for this film and others like it, we wouldn't be where we are. They broke ground, and the dramas that followed refined the plot lines and honed the tension.
Yes, Streisand is impressive in this role, mixing the high and low of top-dollar call-girl with the stereotypical hooker's slang and crudity. Dreyfuss' incompetence as an attorney in this mental competence hearing at first suggests he's off his game, but it slowly dawns that the actor is portraying a mediocre lawyer, a creature nigh-extinct in today's movies and programs. This average solicitor doesn't miraculously discover the tongue of William Jennings Bryan, nor does he find himself trampled by opposing counsel. As Dreyfuss' character puts it after Streisand has "excused" her first, high-priced attorney, "You had good. Now you've got me." That is precisely the character Dreyfuss portrays.
The film forces comparison with another Dreyfuss-courtroom drama, "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" also based on a play. "Nuts" falls short in that competition, even though the sophistication of the characters' understandings of mental states is almost equally dated and thus incredulous to latter-day viewers. In "Horses," it's easier to imagine that the good guys might just lose, and for a courtroom drama, that's a crucial uncertainty. Further, Dreyfuss' quadruple amputee character in "Horses" puts forth a more apparent and accessible frame of mind than Streisand's in "Nuts." She is more animalistic, less eloquent, more bitterly insulting, less achingly sardonic. We can relate more to him, because we're given more to work with.
If you want to rediscover some of the roots of commonplace legal story lines we see in primetime, both films are worth the time.
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