One in a long string of mediocre Barbra Streisand ’70s comedies, For Pete’s Sake is competently made and lighthearted, but it tries way too hard to force hilarity. It also hits more than a few atonal notes that dampen the fun. The story concerns housewife Henrietta “Henry” Robbins (Streisand), who struggles to keep the home fires burning while her husband, Pete (Michael Sarrazin), finishes school. She’s doing everything For Pete’s Sake—get it? The title pun indicates the level of comedy here: harmless but numbingly obvious.
Early in the story, Pete gets a tip about a can’t-miss investment opportunity, so Henry borrows $3,000 from a loan shark. Then, as the movie progresses, her debt is “sold” from one criminal to another, each of whom asks Henry to engage in some sort of illegal activity, but she proves incompetent at everything from prostitution to cattle rustling. Presumably, the idea was to layer one absurdity upon another, but the story gets so far-fetched, so quickly, that it’s hard to accept For Pete’s Sake as anything but a compendium of goofy sight gags.
Streisand has some great moments, offering her signature motor-mouthed sarcasm in the face of outrageous situations, but she doesn’t have the Chaplin-esque gift for physical comedy that the most outlandish scenes require. It’s also problematic that Streisand’s characterization awkwardly fuses two priorities: In keeping with her offscreen feminist ideals, Streisand plays Henry as a willful individual who won’t take guff from anyone, but the story requires her to be a screwball-era ditz. So, is Henry crazy like a fox, subverting criminal activity because she’s a nice person, or is she a dope who gets in over her head? Good luck sorting that one out. Similarly, if For Pete’s Sake is supposed to be about the noble sacrifices of the working class, why is the story predicated on an insider-trading tip that’s supposed to unlock instant wealth? Slapstick movies are never big on logic, so when Streisand’s gender politics get added into the mix, the film becomes hopelessly muddied.
That said, Sarrazin is amiable in a nothing role; Estelle Parsons is effective as Henry’s bitchy sister-in-law; and Molly Picon is amusing as the world’s sunniest madam, one “Mrs. Cherry.” There’s even room for Deliverance rapist Bill McKinney as, no surprise, a creepy rural type. Those who enjoy mindless laughs might dig sequences like the goofy vignette of Babs getting chased through the New York subway by a drug-sniffing dog, but discriminating viewers will find little to love.
For Pete’s Sake: FUNKY