A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
If you were to meet this woman on the street, you wouldn't have much doubt she was nuts. She has that look in her eye, the one that suggests she can be reasonable one minute and lash out wildly the next. She is so filled with anger that the specific targets hardly matter; the whole world is her target.
Barbra Streisand does a good job of projecting that crazed wildness during the opening scenes of "Nuts," but the problem is, the movie doesn't know where to go with it. This is not a movie like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," in which madness is seen as an antidote for regimentation. It aims lower and accomplishes less. It's a courtroom drama, with all of the conventional thrusts and parries of the legal system, and because the structure of the movie is so timid, Streisand's madness threatens to overwhelm it.
She plays a hooker who came from a conventional upper-middle-class home. We see her parents in the courtroom every day, and they're conventional, all right: They're played by Karl Malden and Maureen Stapleton as the picture of intelligent concern. Streisand has been charged with the murder of one of her clients, and her parents are in league with a psychiatrist (Eli Wallach) who thinks she should be committed "for her own good."
Streisand knows that she's likely to spend more time locked up in a psychiatric ward than in jail. She claims she's innocent - she killed in self-defense - but even if she's found guilty at least she will be given a finite sentence with definite provisions. If she's found incompetent to stand trial by reason of insanity, she could be put away indefinitely. And so she fights for the right to be tried.