The Mirror Has Two Faces May 12, 2015
The characters in The Mirror Has Two Faces, all neurotic, intellectual middle-class types, are tired of the manipulations of classic Hollywood. You grow up with an understanding that your first kiss will be set to the sounds of triumphant orchestral melodies; you expect that you’ll find someone so perfect for you that doubt will hardly ever be a factor in your relationship. But in real life, shit like that doesn’t happen. More often than not, you settle, afraid of becoming a spinster — and if you do happen to become a spinster, you may as well mope around about your loneliness while dreaming along with It Happened One Night.
Rose (Barbra Streisand) falls under the category of the latter. She doesn’t mope around though: she has completely given up. She knows that she isn’t a great beauty, and she knows that her biological clock is falling into the pre-stages of menopause. Instead of fretting over her consistently non-existent love life, she embraces her solitude, filling up voids with fattening muffins you find in those plastic wrappers defined by their gigantic, illegible Swedish titles.
Rose, around fifty, still lives with her mother (Lauren Bacall), a past beauty who spends her days as a critical showoff who wishes she were 25 again. Rose teaches literature at a local university, analyzing the doomed lust of Shakespeare’s ensembles to the delight of her students — to her surprise, she captures the attention of Gregory Larkin (Jeff Bridges), a mathematics professor who lectures at the very same college. Gregory isn’t interested in her like Clark Gable was interested in Claudette Colbert, though; he wants to find love that doesn’t have to be strewn together by sex. He wants an emotional connection, a union that requires two souls to unite through their minds rather than their bodies. Rose is skeptical, but she doesn’t want to be an old maid the rest of her life — so she throws caution to the wind and starts dating this seemingly asexual oddball.
After courting for months, they get married. But only a few moments into the marriage does Rose realize that she can’t handle a relationship that isn’t, you know, normal. In the process, she rediscovers herself, giving herself a makeover (which is part of a montage involving lots of treadmills) and a new attitude. A fresh appearance can’t instantaneously change things, however. Rose must decide whether she wants to continue being a part of a sexless coupling.
It’s ironic that so much of The Mirror Has Two Faces is spent criticizing cinematic romantic comedies for being so manipulative, with their obligatory happy endings and scheming instances of mood music. Because, like those “manipulative” rom-coms, the film is pretty manipulative itself. It has an obligatory happy ending and scheming instances of mood music too — so what’s the deal?
Streisand, making her third directorial feature here, doesn’t have anything particularly deep in mind. She wants to create a romantic comedy without the seemingly flawless young people with nothing at stake, instead focusing on middle-aged obsessives that have quite a bit more baggage than charm. Putting Streisand’s manipulations aside, The Mirror Has Two Faces is a successful film, only because it doesn’t have a problem with being likable. Likability is nearly a distraction; this is far from an excellent film, but Streisand’s indestructible appeal makes it impossible not to hope Rose and Gregory will, against the odds, have sex and live happily ever after.
Fans of the immortal Babs will figure that the film is the best thing since chicken fried steak; but those who simply appreciate her star power (me) won’t be so sold. Streisand is, as usual, impossible to dislike, yet some of her co-stars, particularly Bridges, don’t fit into her syrupy vision so easily. Bridges may be one of the leads, but his character’s “no sex” theory is difficult to sell, considering Bridges portrayal is shrill, stuttering, and awkward.
Most of The Mirror Has Two Faces is formulaic romantic comedy-drama glitter, set to the tune of your grandma’s movie preferences (not a bad thing; formula can be effective, and the film is good); its bright spot is Bacall, who steps out from behind Streisand’s Hallmark sheen and represents something real. It’s worth your time if you can stomach sentimentality and appreciate Streisand’s warm talent. B-