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Streisand Loves a 'Mirror'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
November 15, 1996

Babs, Babs and Babs again -- she’s the main attraction in "The Mirror Has Two Faces." Barbra Streisand’s latest directorial effort, starring herself and Jeff Bridges, is a two-hour ode to the First Diva’s legs, eyes, lips and left profile. Her right profile, apparently the one she disfavors, might as well be the dark side of the moon for all the coverage it gets.

For Streisand fans, this ugly-duckling parable -- scored to romantic excess by Marvin Hamlisch -- is going to be the perfect experience. But for those who make crucifix signs with their fingers when her name is mentioned, this is definitely one to miss.

In this remake of a French film, Streisand plays Rose Morgan, a literature professor at Columbia University who lectures authoritatively about romance but has no romantic prospects. Bridges is Gregory Larkin, a rumpled mathematics professor who’s tired of superficial relationships with young women. Looking for something platonic, he advertises for an over-35 companion with a PhD, stressing that physical appearance is not an issue.

Rose’s sister Claire (Mimi Rogers), who spots the ad, urges Gregory to call Rose. After the de-rigueur cutenesses (Gregory’s bumbling telephone manner, Rose’s responsive quips), a dinner date is set. When Rose shows interest in such abstract concepts as prime numbers, the math professor is bowled over. A friendship grows, but one without hugs or kisses. When Gregory proposes marriage, with the proviso that sex be excluded, Rose has to consider the possibilities.

For Streisand, playing a loveless frump is a relative matter. How could people not adore any character she plays? "I’m no great prize," Rose laments at one point, even though she’s halo-lit like the Madonna. Her male-modelish brother-in-law, Alex (Pierce Brosnan), flirts energetically with her minutes after he has just married her sister. Rose’s classes are punctuated with one-liners that would make Jackie Mason gag on his borscht. Nevertheless, her students worship her with a chirrupy admiration that makes those alpine minions in "The Sound of Music" look like curmudgeons.

Gregory is going to have to realize that, in a friendship this powerful, questions of intimacy cannot be avoided. More importantly, he’s going to have to accept the bottom line: No character can survive in a Streisand movie if they don’t find the star physically attractive. Gregory’s un-suspenseful dilemma takes a debilitating 126 minutes to resolve. And the running time is hardly helped by a plethora of strategically framed shots of Rose’s legs, new hairstyle, luscious lips and misty-blue eyes, after she has undergone a physical makeover. There is comic relief, however, from Lauren Bacall as Hannah, Rose’s egocentric, materialistic mother. Her withering lines -- usually directed toward her daughter -- counteract some of the ubiquitous narcissism. "I should never have encouraged you to speak," she tells Rose at one point. Sitting there in the darkness, you can only nod.

THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES (PG-13) — Contains sexual situations and minor profanity.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post Company

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