Claudia Draper (Barbara Streisand), a high-class call girl, has been charged with the murder of a client in her apartment. Her parents have her confined to a mental hospital in an effort to keep her from standing trial. In her first appearance in the courtroom, she physically assaults her lawyer. A public defender, Aaron Levinsky (Richard Dreyfuss), is then assigned to her case. Although Claudia is pushy, insulting, and nasty, she is in his eyes fit to stand trial for manslaughter.
Nuts is based on a 1980 play by Tom Topor. In this screen adaptation, directed by Martin Ritt, Barbara Streisand puts in an Academy Award-caliber performance as a woman who has been jerked around by love. Finding herself in dire straits, Claudia is ferociously determined that others not control her life according to their perceptions of who she is. At one point during the trial, she declares: “I am not just a picture in you heads. I am not just a daughter, or a wife, or a hooker, or a patient or a defendant.”
In another topnotch performance, Richard Dreyfuss plays her long-suffering lawyer. With great skill, he brings to light some dark secrets about Claudia’s stepfather (Karl Malden), her mother (Maureen Stapleton), and her psychiatrist (Eli Wallach). Nuts is a gutsy movie about dehumanizing love with an unlikable heroine who refuses to submit to the purposes, fantasies, or needs of others.