The Mirror Has Two Faces
- Barbra Streisand as Rose Morgan
- Jeff Bridges as Gregory Larkin
- Lauren Bacall as Hannah Morgan
- Mimi Rogers as Claire Morgan
- George Segal as Henry Fine
- Pierce Brosnan as Alex
A romantic comedy-drama that has a feeling for old-fashioned films of the genre yet infused with something modern, The Mirror Has Two Faces has humour and heart to be taken from it. The middle part is slow and overindulged in a couple of missteps, but the overall package of the film, under the clear command of both director and star Barbra Streisand crafts an often touching and funny tale of relationships.
Rose Morgan is a dowdy, middle-aged professor of English Literature at Columbia University who often talks about grand romance and passion. The irony is that Rose has neither of them but really would like them, she just hasn’t had any luck in relationships. Living at home with her overbearing and vain mother Hannah is no help either as her mother is a woman who always feels the need to do her daughter down. And to top it off, Rose’s pretty sister Claire has just got married to the hunky Alex, who Rose has carried a torch for since the moment they met. Gregory Larkin also teaches at Columbia University though he is in the maths department and doesn’t quite have the ability to connect with his class that Rose does. He has come to the conclusion that he can’t function if in any sort of romantic or sexual relationship as he appears to lose his head. He puts and ad in the paper for a relationship that is intellectual rather than lustful. Through the intervention of Claire, Rose and Gregory meet and somehow hit it off. She impresses him with her self-deprecating wit and intellect, while she likes that he has taken an interest in her as no one in the past really has this much and no one quite as dashing either. After a few mix ups, the two pursue a platonic union that seems to work for both of them as it provides stimulating company and both of them can be themselves around the other. A few months into this, Gregory proposes much to the surprise of Rose, who knows that the marriage would be one without physical intimacy. Perhaps out of fear that she’ll be left on the shelf forever, Rose accepts his offer and the two marry. As time goes on, Rose begins to develop deep romantic affections for Gregory and this puts a strain on what is supposed to be a chaste meeting of minds rather than bodies. When she attempts to seduce him, Gregory rejects her as he doesn’t want sex to complicate what has become a pleasing companionship and goes on a teaching tour around Europe. Rose is then left to choose whether she should still pursue a potential reunion with Gregory or make some sort of change.
Taking the director’s seat, Barbra Streisand shows of yet more of her talent by giving perceptive and inviting direction to The Mirror Has Two Faces. She covers themes of self-worth and beauty in it, and while during the middle section where Rose has a makeover she jeopardizes some of what she’s been getting across, she brings it all back together for a lovely home stretch as Rose and Gregory have to acknowledge their feelings. Having starred herself in many romantic comedies in the past, the genre has obviously rubbed off on her and the result is a film constructed with attention and care for the genre it is in. Some will dismiss the film as a vanity project and simply just The Streisand Show, but dig deeper and there’s genuine emotion to be found there as well as a crackling script of funny characters. Streisand shows her confidence behind the camera as well as in front and makes the procedure both humorous and delightful. The Mirror Has Two Faces succeeds due to its throwback nature and moments that bring to mind 50’s romantic comedies. Scenes like the awkward meeting of the two are her attempt at a seduction have a feeling of yesteryear to them, but also benefit from modern values too. The film loses steam in the middle section and gets a bit bogged down in an abundance of gloss, at least it regains footing near the end and doesn’t do too much damage to a well-crafted flick. A lush sweeping score harks from Marvin Hamlisch harks back to the glory days of the romance picture with strings and woodwind as the perfect backdrop for this throwback picture.
As well as sitting in the director’s chair(and doing a fine job in that department), Barbra Streisand also contributes an amusing yet sympathetic performance as the lovelorn Rose, entering into a platonic marriage yet secretly desiring grand passion. Streisand breathes life into a woman who has a low self-esteem yet a good sense of humour that hides insecurity. Exuding kooky mannerisms and an articulate mind, Barbra Streisand marvellously makes Rose a character to root for and be charmed by along the way. Jeff Bridges provides superb humour as the somewhat bumbling and talkative Gregory, who believes that his theory of a union without the complication of sexual feelings or romance will work, but is challenged when Rose wants more than just companionship. Bridges has a real knack for laughs that is apparent here and by giving the part fastidious tendencies as well as awkwardness, he is a joy to watch. It must be said that the way that Streisand and Bridges bounce off each other is quite something and has that snap that old romantic comedies of the 40’s and 50’s had. Lauren Bacall flat-out steals The Mirror Has Two Faces however, with a sharp turn as Rose’s disagreeable and looks obsessed mother Hannah. With acerbic drawl, Bacall marvellously plays this matriarchal diva as something of a vain Medusa with all the best lines and withering put downs. Yet I have to give credit to Bacall for also injecting touches of vulnerability to the part that show that Hannah is not as bitchy or as harsh as her exterior would suggest. It’s a true supporting turn that is great to behold whenever Bacall takes the screen. Mimi Rogers is fine as the foxy glamour puss sister, while although only seen briefly, George Segal is a hoot as a friend of Gregory’s with a roving eye. The only person to not really make an impact is Pierce Brosnan as Rose’s brother-in-law, though the blame can’t be put at the door of Brosnan because the character is lazily written.
Its main message can get jumbled amid the gloss and the latter stages could have had some trimming to make them slightly tighter, yet The Mirror Has Two Faces brims with such beaming love, awkward romance and surprisingly moving moments that it’s flaws can be passed over because of how well it all turns out. And the well assembled cast and illustrious director/star of Barbra Streisand are even more reason to seek this film out.