Santa Leaves a Six-Pack

In half a dozen Christmas movies, Hollywood worries a lot, has an affair, pays for a wedding, loses its faith and the rain forest, and gets stoned

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Wow! Four movies for the price of one. The Prince of Tides may be the biggest bargain of these recessionary holidays. Excessive is the word for director Barbra Streisand's movie -- and not an entirely pejorative one either. It is adapted -- by Pat Conroy and Becky Johnston -- from Conroy's romantic, sentimental and gothic novel, which has attracted a passionate following precisely because, in an age when most serious fiction has a pinched quality, his work is so gloriously unbuttoned.

The movie is as lush visually as Conroy's book is lush verbally. There is something tidal -- that is to say, patiently inexorable -- in its rhythms. And as Tom Wingo, protagonist of all the movies Streisand is sweeping along on the imagistic current she has unleashed, Nick Nolte gives a force-of-nature performance -- shrewd and gullible, bitter and innocent, bigger than life but still in touch with it.

Good father, impotent husband, unemployed football coach and tormented modern male, he is summoned to New York because his sister Savannah, a poet, has again attempted suicide. It develops, of course, that her psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein (played not entirely believably by the director), has a life as miserable as Tom's. Her husband (Jeroen Krabbe) is a cold, egomaniacal concert violinist, her son (played well by Streisand's real-life son Jason Gould) the victim of the Golden Boy syndrome, torn between the violin and a rough sport (in this case football).

With all this trouble, can a love affair -- healing for him, liberating for her -- be far behind? Unfortunately, the look that Streisand imparts to this passage -- that of a commercial for a feminine-hygiene product -- is a deal breaker, the moment at which at least some portion of the audience is likely to realize that their eager-to-please saleslady has been soft-soaping a hard sell all along. By slamming several minor domestic dramas together in one handsomely presented package, Tides achieves the length and weight of an epic. But it is a false epic, a grandiose delusion compounded of conventional problems, easy sentiments and pretty pictures. R.S.


Annie (Kimberly Williams) is home from Europe with big news. Good news, if you are not her father George (Steve Martin). She met a guy, she's in love, they're getting married. The first pleasure this sentimental comedy offers is the sight of Martin's reaction to Annie's plans: the tan seems to seep off his magnificently fretful face. He will pay for this wedding in many ways.

On its surface, Father of the Bride is a parable for the New Depression, in which a middle-class family is expected to pony up $100,000 or so in lieu of letting a young couple elope. At heart, though, the story is about the deep, complex, poignant love a man has for his daughter: it's the Lolita syndrome without the lust but with every bit of the doting possessiveness. Annie's budding maturity means that George can no longer even pretend he is young; her engagement is a renunciation of their old flirtatious bond. "I was no longer the man in my little girl's life," he says with a sigh. For this father, a wedding is a funeral.

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