The Mirror Has Two Faces

on November 15, 1996 by Joseph McBride
   The obligatory scene in every Barbra Streisand movie is an astonished male hunk gasping words to the effect of "God, you're beautiful." That moment in "The Mirror Has Two Faces" is the raison d'etre of the entire film, which casts Streisand as a frumpy professor transformed into a knockout babe. In her third outing as director, Streisand has gone for broadly crowd-pleasing comedy and romance, playing off her own persona in a self-consciously congratulatory manner that will gratify her many diehard fans but will leave other viewers feeling shortchanged.
   The rewrite by Richard LaGravenese ("A Little Princess") of the French film "Le Miroir a Deux Faces" tends to skate blithely along the shallow surface of the tale, seldom reaching for deeper emotion. Streisand's empathy with the loveless life of Columbia University romance literature prof Rose Morgan carries some conviction, especially in scenes with her aging but still glamorous mother (a superbly stylish Lauren Bacall) habitually denigrating her daughter's appearance. But, as any Streisand fan knows from the start, this second-hand Rose isn't really an ugly duckling; she's only dressed as one. When she undergoes fitness training, she emerges, unsurprisingly, as a dead ringer for a certain glamorous Hollywood actress/singer/director.
   The single novelty here is the grating partner with whom Streisand's character is saddled: fellow professor Gregory Larkin (Jeff Bridges), a dullish sort who's been burned by passion and wants only the refuge of a platonic marriage. Rose's desperate efforts to stir his libido become terribly demeaning, giving this "fine romance, with no kisses" a strangely retro aura of sexist humiliation. It takes all of Bridges' considerable charm to make his creepy embodiment of 1990s male sexual anxieties marginally bearable. Marvin Hamlisch's gushy score (which, as the press notes insist, "adapts the `Love Theme' composed by Barbra Streisand") is even more of a turnoff. Starring Barbra Streisand, Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, George Segal and Lauren Bacall. Directed by Barbra Streisand. Written by Richard LaGravenese. Produced by Barbra Streisand and Arnon Milchan. A TriStar release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for language, sensuality and some mature thematic material. Running time: 126 min. Opens 11/15 wide.
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