An eccentric woman accused of manslaughter must prove her competency to stand trial, or she will be forced without trial to accept years of psychiatric treatment. [Dir: Martin Ritt/ Barbra Streisand, Richard Dreyfuss, Maureen Stapleton/ 116 min/ Drama/ Psychiatry & Force]
Barbra Streisand must really have liked the play on which this film was based because she not only produced this screen adaptation and wrote the music for it but starred as well. Among other things, the story questions the competency of uncaring, overburdened state institutions to judge the competency of accused citizens.
As it begins, the central character has just been charged with manslaughter. However, her erratic behavior suggests to the court that she may not be sane enough to stand trial. The lawyer hired by her “caring” parents, to get her “treatment” instead of prison, concurs. Her parents don’t seem to understand that “treatment” can be worse than prison and can go on for just as long or longer. In short, she’s on a fast track to the loony bin.
Suddenly realizing what’s happening, she rebels, firing and even attacking the lawyer hired by her parents. The court appoints a new lawyer, only this one is smart enough to figure out that she may not be addled after all.
This film is a good reminder of the alarming fact that just a handful of select signatures could commit anyone, and raises important questions about how responsibly the state applies that power.
As entertainment, it’s a fair watch. The film has an interesting story and plenty of quality acting. However, Streisand, in the leading role, plays her part with such a sharp, indignant edge as to compromise the natural sympathy of the viewer for her character. That’s my opinion, but serious Streisand fans may be more forgiving.