The Mirror Has Two Faces
Richard LaGravanese (Screenplay: Andre Cayatte, Gerard Oury)
Barbra Streisand, Jeff Bridges, Lauren Bacall, George Segal, Mimi Rogers, Pierce Brosnan, Brenda Vaccaro Austin Pendleton, Elle Macpherson
In her third directorial effort, singer and actress Barbra Streisand delivered a conventional, yet somewhat atypical romantic comedy and, for the third of these efforts, also starred in the film. The Mirror Has Two Faces was a loose remake of 1958 French drama Le Miroir à deux faces adapted by The Fisher King screenwriter Richard LaGravanese.
Looking back at 1996, I can see why many people didn’t like The Mirror Has Two Faces. This is an unconventional romantic comedy that toyed with conventional archetypes and forged a different path through the overused clichés and tropes famous in the genre. Director Barbara Streisand’s third stint behind the camera doesn’t idly mimic the traditions of the medium, she does so with purpose and finesse. It’s surprising the film was as maligned as it was considering it’s a lot better than what’s been produced in recent years.
Streisand plays a frumpy philosophy teacher who wants more out of life, but cannot seem to find it. An opportunity to live a romance-less relationship with an idealistic mathematics teacher (Jeff Bridges) gives her an opportunity to coax the beast out of its shell. Yet, as his unflinching adherence to his belief structure, one which he thinks will ideally lead to the perfect marriage, cripples their relationship, he haplessly misses all the clues that suggest perhaps he is falling in love and that his relationship with Streisand’s Rose could be more than he expected.
As director, Streisand gets a bit obvious with her references to old movie romances, touching on It Happened One Night on at least two separate occasions. That film, which put a careless reporter into a platonic, guarded relationship with an heiress, eventually leads to more. The similarities aren’t covert, but they are fitting. Bridges delivers an able, believable performance, employing his wit and charm to sell a character that would otherwise seem pointless. Streisand does fine, but reminds me of another singer-turned-actress who couldn’t cope with the genre better on subsequent occasions.
Lauren Bacall, who appeared in her fair share of romance films in her career, is relegated to the snarky, overbearing mother role, delivering some catchy one-liners, but with nothing more complex or exciting about her performance. Bacall does little to merit an Oscar, though a nomination was entirely within reason.
Streisand’s films may have always felt a little mannered in terms of direction, but they were nevertheless enjoyable affairs. Her directorial debut, Yentl, played to her strengths as a singer and actor, exploring the challenges of women to learn and take on traditionally male roles in a patriarchal structure. Her second film, The Prince of Tides, was a romantic drama. The Mirror Has Two Faces is another slight departure for Streisand, but proved that she’s more than capable of delivering a film of solid quality.
The Mirror Has Two Faces may have gotten lost in the hubbub of the 1996 Oscar race thanks to the strong push it received solely for Bacall’s performance, but it’s an engaging and entertaining film that ultimately alters our expectations of Streisand as an actor and as a director.
May 3, 2021