Margaret Reynolds (Barbra Streisand) is a doting housewife for her husband Paul (David Selby) and two young children who is beginning to wonder if there is more to life than this. She dutifully looks after all three of her family, but fulfilment in her existence is lacking and to top it all she hasn't been feeling well recently. She makes an appointment with her doctor who examines her and gives her the news: Margaret is pregnant with her third child. How does she feel about that? She's not too sure, and as the anxiety of her situation starts to gnaw at her emotions, she allows her fantasy life to take over in surprising ways...
If you're one of those people who calls Barbra Streisand "Barbra Streisland" then stop it. Seriously, there's no "L" in her name. Anyway, Up the Sandbox is one of her most curious films, reportedly one of her favourites among her own body of screen work, that is hard to fit into a specific category. Is it a comedy? There are a few laughter-inducing moments, but it's not really all that funny, but then it's full of subtly introduced fantasy sequences too, far more than might be expected of a straight drama. So perhaps the film is best described as an examination of a young mother's malaise.
Of course, some of the imaginative sequences are more subtly introduced than others. Margaret has issues with her overbearing mother (Jane Hoffman) who believes she knows better than her daughter how to treat her husband and kids, and in one instance we see Margaret arguing with her through the chained front door of her apartment, a chain which her mother proceeds to break with a bolt-cutter - then we see what's really happening, and Margaret has in fact just let her in and is stoically putting up with the haranguing she has sadly grown used to.
Margaret's problem is that she can't articulate her dissatisfaction, and even if she did there would be nobody to listen to her and sympathise. Her friends are no help, the kids are too young, and Paul may be supportive, but he's more interested in his work at the university. When she goes to see him there to meet him for a lunch date, she eavesdrops on him laughing it up with a female colleague. Cue fantasy that has her confront the colleague and have her admit that she is having an affair with Paul but it's perfectly all right as he still loves Margaret and would do anything for her, so they both hug. To say that our heroine is suffering confused emotions is an understatement.
If the daydreams were purely domestic, then Up the Sandbox might have an even smaller following than it does (it is one of Streisand's lowest grossing films), but there are regular occasions in the story where it goes all out for weirdness. One sequence has Margaret attending a press conference with Fidel Castro (or someone who looks like him), and ends up invited to his hotel room where he reveals that not only is that beard a fake, but he has breasts - yes, Fidel is a woman! If that's not enough to make you sit up and ask "What the...?" then how about Babs and a group of black militants breaking into the Statue of Liberty at night and setting off explosives that topple it over? Or Babs at a dinner party when her pregnancy bulges out alarmingly, but it's all right as she can push it in again whereupon the mass moves to her expanding bosom, all the better to rival that buxom young woman who is flirting with Paul? It's a pity that all this interior rebellion leads to such an apparently conservative ending, but you're not sure if that's fantasy as well, though the film's bizarre approach to a certain state of mind undeniably catches the attention. Music by Billy Goldenberg.