I have to admit that I just watched 1996 Barbra Streisand opus The Mirror Has Two Faces for the second time. Yes, and the first time I saw it, my curiosity had led me to take the trouble to go to see it at the cinema, if you can imagine such a thing. Still, having found the film to be a memorable piece of work, I’d always wanted to see it again and truly realised how much when I recently saw it in a bargain bin as part of a series called ‘Girls’ Night In’. This is a collection of titles packaged in pink plastic, which, if it truly is what ‘girls’ want to stay in and watch, is a compelling argument against female suffrage.
You can tell straight away that The Mirror Has Two Faces is intended to be a ‘woman’s film’ by the fact that in Streisand’s first appearance, she is eating a Twinkie even as she wears a facemask. The plot concerns the marriage of convenience between ugly duckling Rose Morgan (Streisand, naturally) and an uptight University of Columbia mathematics professor, Gregory Larkin (Jeff Bridges). They embark on the marriage of convenience because he’s sick of hot women tormenting him and she’s dying of love for him, almost as much as she’s dying to get married. However, the relationship becomes one of genuine passion after Rose has an intense makeover of her physical person. The kicker is, though, that it was actually a love match all along, as Gregory, despite his previous predilection for women who look like Elle Macpherson (given that his ex, Candy, is played by Elle Macpherson) had, without his knowledge, always been attracted to Rose, due to her magical personality and towering intellect.
You see, Rose, too, is one of the learned staff at grand old Ivy League college Columbia, possessing as she does the vague title of ‘Professor of Literature’. We are not told directly what type of literature this might be, although it is revealed that she is the owner of a couple of fat books that are entitled, respectively, American Literature and The English Philosophers. Rose is, I need hardly say, a phenomenal teacher, punchily delivering her lectures in the manner of Joan Rivers crossed with Erma Bombeck, and, even though she is speaking before a crowd of students that would be a capacity crowd at the Hordern Pavilion, her relationship with each and every one is such that she apparently knows them all by name. I hadn’t seen a group of students so much under a teacher’s spell since Woody Harrelson lectured in architecture in Indecent Proposal. Rose’s students roar with laughter at her bon mots, and jocks punch the air when she speaks knowledgeably of Puccini. We see the evidence of Rose’s monumental genius outside the classroom also, when she reveals on her first date with Gregory her awareness that nine is divisible by three.
Still, once Rose realises that a marriage of convenience with Gregory isn’t enough for her because she, reasonably enough, wants to get him in the feathers occasionally, she embarks on her big makeover, which involves a tableau of Rose doing aerobics and getting foils in her hair. We’re given to believe that post her reinvention she’s such a babe that one of her students licks his lips, without sarcasm, while she’s giving one of her powerhouse lectures. What is most unsettling about the transformation, though, and perhaps most of all gives Mirror its spooky feel, is that Rose has apparently been made over to look exactly like Barbra Streisand. The other characters’ dialogue after this point is largely a collection of lines such as ‘Rose, I cannot thank you enough’ and ‘You’re such an inspiration’; her best friend bemoaning that she and Rose are no longer in the same homely boat; and beauties quailing before Rose’s monumental physical attractiveness. The whole thing ends with Jeff Bridges suffering degradation unprecedented by humankind as he extensively dances with Streisand in the street to the accompaniment of a duet between herself and Bryan Adams.
The ‘behind the scenes featurette’ on the DVD is, I was unsurprised to see, primarily on the subject of Streisand. Jeff Bridges admits having marvelled to himself, ‘How is this woman going to direct, produce and act?’, sentiments echoed by the other male lead, Pierce Brosnan. Bridges comments that, as well as all this, ‘At the beginning of every day, she sings “People”’, which I hope was a joke. The great Lauren Bacall (who makes a good fist of playing Streisand’s enormously conceited and superficial mother in the film), on the other hand, merely remarks darkly, ‘When you’re wearing all those hats … it’s a lot.’ Bacall was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Faces and I’ve never forgotten her stating, with a similar level of commendable honesty, at the ceremony, ‘I hope I win’, which she didn’t, unfortunately.
Anyway, I appreciate that I’ve been going to town on Streisand here, but I actually have a little bit of affection for her. Even though I don’t particularly like her singing, acting or directing, the fact remains that she is capable of doing all three, not to mention producing (plus, Bridges claims in the featurette that she even had a manicured hand in ‘Craft Services’), and I always respect and admire an unashamed egomaniac. And the thing is that The Mirror Has Two Faces actually did make me think, as apparently it was intended to, about love. What it made me think about most, though, was celebrity couples who’ve split up, who I wish had stayed together. And Streisand and her first husband, Elliott Gould, are at the top of the list. Who wouldn’t want the stars of, respectively, Getting Straight and Up the Sandbox to be living and loving together till death?
Still only on the tip of the iceberg of celebrity couplings I mourn are Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis (they looked just right for each other physically and as though they were permanently sharing a joke) and Rob Reiner and Penny Marshall (surely they could never have run out of conversation). Even if one half of a great-seeming couple goes on to be happier with another party, you still can’t quite root for this new pairing. Take Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh – yes, you can see that he was sulking all the way through the 1939 Oscars ceremony when she was, completely correctly, highly decorated for her performance in Gone With the Wind, but I always wish that things could have turned out differently for these two dazzling individuals trying to be a pair. All I can say is, praise be for John Alderton and Pauline Collins for managing to stay together these many years, despite the temptations that would abound when you’re starring in Please, Sir! or No, Honestly.
In the Faces ‘behind the scenes’, Barbra Streisand confides that ‘I like to make films that make people feel.’ While watching Faces, I was feeling, aside from my wonderment at the flick itself, that I wished she and Gould could have made each other feel that they wanted to stay around, even as I hoped that Gregory eventually made it to the border of Mexico, so to speak, and got right the hell away from Rose.