Margaret Reynolds is not crazy. She's just pregnant again - her third child. And she's very uncertain about this moment in her life and who she has become and what society values from her. So her brain tends to take some flights of fancy.
That is the setup for UP THE SANDBOX, a 1972 film that is directed by Irvin Kershner (LOVING and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK) and written by the late Paul Zindel. The film is obviously meant to address the women's movement that was burgeoning at that time. Although some of its themes don't translate well 31 years later, most of the film is still relative and challenging today.
Barbra Streisand's performance as Margaret is incredible. It's one of her best film roles. Barbra strips down, and plays it very natural here. There are only traces of fast-talking-Brooklyn-Barbra; only one or two FUNNY GIRL line readings. The rest is a different Barbra than we've seen. It makes one wonder what other sort of small film roles she could have done -- she's that remarkable in SANDBOX.
SANDBOX won't be for everyone's tastes. When I first saw it in the 1980's I didn't like it. I was confused. The fantasy sequences are not obvious. There are no clichéd Hollywood transitions - no WAYNE'S WORLD "dream sequence" dissolves! The dreams can be confusing. However, if you're a fan of smaller, non-Hollywood or foreign films, one can appreciate UP THE SANDBOX for its subtle accomplishments. In fact, Kershner achieves a dangerous atmosphere by keeping the line between reality and fantasy so close. The audience is disoriented sometimes. Think what it must be like to be Margaret, though!
Gordon Willis' cinematography contributes to the realistic and documentary feel of UP THE SANDBOX. Willis, by using natural lighting and subtle shading, creates a warm but realistic image. Streisand (in her commentary) points out several scenes where Willis' cinematography impresses.
"The Moviemakers" documentary is a welcomed addition to the DVD. Streisand fans can see some additional footage shot for the African sequence, as well as a lot of behind the scenes shots.
Streisand's commentary is enlightening, as is Irvin Kershner's. Kershner, so far, is the one director Barbra speaks the most about in all of the DVD commentary she's provided for this Warner Brother's set. Barbra makes sure to point out son Jason Gould's cameo appearance in the film. It's also interesting to hear Barbra's recollection of her own mother's unannounced visits, which mirrors the scene in the film.
I've grown close to several new mothers in my life recently. I don't have children myself, but I have watched and learned about parenthood from them. I couldn't help but think about this while watching UP THE SANDBOX last night. Have things really changed that much in thirty years? Don't women, when pregnant, still question whether to work, how much to work, when to go back to work? And as a woman's life becomes centered around her children and husband, she is still confused about what to do with her own life. Even exercising and eating become difficult when the little ones need her attention.
Toward SANDBOX's end, Kershner films a wonderfully surreal fantasy sequence where Margaret considers an abortion after contemplating all of the issues just mentioned. Kershner, Zindel, and Streisand present us with Margaret's decision. UP THE SANDBOX tells us that women don't need to become more like men ... they need to become more like themselves.
More info on Barbra Streisand can be found at my fan website "The Barbra Archives".
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