Claudia Faith Draper (Barbra Streisand) is pretty angry for most of this film but, as she points out, she has a lot to be angry about. She’s a very upmarket, independent hooker who – by her account – killed a john (Leslie Nielsen) in self-defence.
She’s up on a criminally negligent homicide charge but her seemingly doting and super protective parents try to invoke the paternalistic aspects of the legal system to get her declared unfit to plead, “for her own good”.
Yes, it’s true that a jury might find her guilty of the charge; but it would also be far less
embarrassing for her prominent family if Claudia disappeared into the rights-less anonymity of an asylum rather than having what she wants – her day in court.
Claudia’s battle is not only against the ambiguous motives of her parents but also against the biases of a broad spectrum legal system.
On the one hand, the legal order (in principle) wishes to try only those fit to fully understand and participate in the process of justice; on the other hand, in practice, it is human beings, full of foibles and prejudices, who are empowered to decide on fitness.
Claudia is decidedly unconventional. She is a middle-class, well-educated woman who has not only made a “deviant” career choice but who has also demonstrated herself capable of punching out her parents’ lawyer in rejecting their self-serving “protection”.
The question is: is she nuts simply because her behaviour and attitudes are atypical and/or stroppy for her sex and class?
Sociolegal students of Labelling Theory may find Nuts familiar ground, but Streisand is simply great in confounding establishment expectation and mobilising legal logic on her behalf.
Richard Dreyfuss, as Aaron Levinsky the legal aid lawyer with a new sense of purpose, shines in her reflected glow, but she gets all the good lines as a woman who says nuts to everything even remotely straight yet is prepared to abide by the double-edged sword of the law.
Dr Herbert A. Morrison
Judge Stanley Murdoch