The Mirror Has Two Faces (1996)

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Directed by Barbra Streisand
Written by Richard LaGravenese

Rated PG-13

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
Brenda Vaccaro as Doris
Austin Pendleton as Barry
Elle Macpherson as Candice

So many romantic comedies are riddled with clichés, so imagine how refreshing it is to find one that is sweet, funny, and filled with fine performances.

Rose Morgan (Barbra Streisand) is a professor of literature at Columbia University in New York City. She still lives at home with her widowed and critical mother (Lauren Bacall), and her love life is almost nonexistent. Yet, she’s a romantic at heart, and a string of canceled dates with nerdy Barry (Austin Pendleton) leaves her discouraged.

Meanwhile, fellow professor Gregory Larkin (Jeff Bridges) is disenchanted with the opposite sex for other reasons. He’s still attracted the younger woman (Elle Macpherson) who left him for another man. When she uses him for a random tryst, he is confused and prompted to make a steely resolution: he will no longer pursue women based on a physical attraction.

Gregory places a lonelyhearts ad (suggested by a phone sex operator in one of the film’s funniest and most inspired scenes). She must be over 35 and, among other things, an intellectual match. Rose’s beautiful and much-married younger sister Claire (Mimi Rogers) answers the ad for Rose (without Rose’s knowledge). As it happens, Claire has recently married Alex (Pierce Brosnan!!), a man whom Rose finds captivating. In fact, Rose introduced them.

Rose and Gregory meet, and they agree to a date. They get along famously; she understands prime numbers, and Gregory is much sexier than Barry. However, there is a hitch: Gregory’s eventual marriage proposal thrills her, but he does not desire sex. He will provide it, or so he says, if requested; but he’s against it. His best friend Henry (George Segal), a womanizer and fellow professor, thinks he’s nuts. And Rose’s best friend Doris (Brenda Vaccaro), also a professor, can’t believe Rose and Gregory have never even kissed.

There are lighthearted and enjoyable surprises in the film. For example, Rose eventually discovers how she and Gregory met, and the film’s handling of the revelation is intelligent and realistic. The varied ensemble cast is wonderful as well, particular the late, great Bacall. In the screen legend’s one and only Oscar-nominated performance, she illuminates the screen as a faded beauty with a volatile relationship with both daughters … for very different reasons. As the story develops, Hannah softens a bit to see her daughter’s plight, and the pivotal kitchen scene between Bacall and Streisand is fantastic. It was Bacall’s Oscar scene, though she fell victim to an Oscar night sweep by The English Patient (Juliette Binoche won; though Bacall did win a Golden Globe and a SAG Award).

Streisand once again directs herself (as in Yentl and The Prince of Tides), and she is three for three in directing an actress to a Supporting Oscar nomination. Harrison Ford was reportedly attached to the Gregory Larkin role, but he was advised against taking second billing to Streisand. A very similar casting decision happened 20 years previous, when Elvis Presley’s camp insisted his name be billed over Streisand in the remake of A Star is Born. The part when to Kris Kristofferson, who won a Golden Globe (along with Streisand).

Streisand has claimed that after Funny Girl, The Way We Were, and The Prince of Tides, she felt like her on screen heroine finally deserved a happy ending. That the Oscar-nominated hit “I Finally Found Someone” caps the film is no coincidence. [The Streisand-Bryan Adams duet was also Oscar-nominated.]

The Mirror Has Two Faces is an entertaining and joyful film.

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