"The Mirror Has Two Faces" is a vanity production of the first order. A staggeringly obsessive expression of the importance of appearances, good looks and being adored, Barbra Streisand's third directorial outing is also, incidentally, a very old-fashioned wish-fulfillment romantic comedy that has been directed and performed in the broadest possible manner.

“The Mirror Has Two Faces” is a vanity production of the first order. A staggeringly obsessive expression of the importance of appearances, good looks and being adored, Barbra Streisand’s third directorial outing is also, incidentally, a very old-fashioned wish-fulfillment romantic comedy that has been directed and performed in the broadest possible manner. Streisand’s ugly duckling-turned-swan routine has worked before and will work again with mainstream, and predominantly female, audiences.

Lushly produced fantasy is based on a 1958 French sudser of the same name which starred Michele Morgan as a homely woman who re-emerges as a beauty courtesy of plastic surgery, only to cause complications that result in her selfish teacher husband killing the doctor who performed the operation.

Streisand and scripter Richard LaGravenese have no doubt wisely jettisoned both the knife and the murder and, for starters, have transformed the sniveling, boorish husband into hunky university prof Jeff Bridges. This is merely the first of many moves to make the picture as easy on the eyes as possible, and all but impossible to watch with a straight face.

After being dumped by g.f. Elle Macpherson, no less, and despite being mooned over by all the sauciest girls in his math classes at Columbia, Professor Gregory Larkin (Bridges) feels so desperate for a meaningful relationship not based on sex that he places a personals ad. Through some trickery, he ends up on a “date” with fellow prof Rose Morgan (Streisand), who lives with her hovering mother, Hannah (Lauren Bacall), and as much as admits that she’s officially an old maid when her high-glam sister, Claire (Mimi Rogers), marries for the third time, to James Bond er, Alex (Pierce Brosnan), whom Rose secretly covets.

Gregory is impressed with the lofty ideals of 12th-century courtly love he has heard Rose expound upon to her adoring students in an English lecture, and after three months (and an hour of screen time) they are enjoying such a splendid “union of souls” that Gregory proposes they get married, with no sex in the equation to mess things up. This isn’t quite what Rose always dreamed about, but since no one ever proposed to her before, she agrees, and they spend a spectacularly awkward wedding night watching “Lawrence of Arabia” on video.

Pic’s second half is devoted to Rose’s realization that something is missing and her decision to take drastic action. After Gregory resists a major sexual assault one night and subsequently leaves on a European book tour, Rose, with her beautician mother’s enthusiastic participation, takes the big step: She has a complete makeover.

When Gregory returns, he becomes thoroughly unglued by his wife’s new blond, aerobicized, bejeweled look. Curiously, Rose has also acquired a mysterious new sexual confidence along with the new shell and tells her hubby that their old deal is off. When Gregory discovers that Rose may now be seeing Alex, it finally makes Gregory into the wild, impassioned, crazy man Rose wants him to be, opening the door to a real marriage at last.

From the beginning, it is clear that Streisand intends to hit every point squarely on the head and maybe bang it a few extra times for good measure. Every gag, every line and every emotional cue is pitched to the top balcony so no one will miss a thing, and there are quite a few moments of self-examination and discovery where one nearly expects the star to break into song to underline what she is really feeling.

Although the ostensible theme of the piece is the old chestnut about how it’s what is inside a person, and not the exterior, that counts, the film’s incessant preoccupation is everyone’s looks. For starters, Streisand’s class consists of the best-looking, best-groomed bunch of college students to be seen onscreen, or in reality, since, let’s say, “Tall Story.” The two male principals, Bridges and Brosnan, take up where “The Way We Were” left off in presenting the Jewish wallflower with WASPy dreamboats to moon over, and Rogers looks like she’s had something of a makeover herself as the sister who has always put Rose in the shadows.

Bacall, posing, rolling her eyes and snapping out the one-liners with consummate skill, is in to play the source of all of Rose’s insecurities, the mother who was drop-dead gorgeous and who never told her kind of funny-looking daughter she was pretty. Most poignant scene is a breakfast-room heart-to-heart in which Mom finally tells her daughter what she wants to hear.

But ultimately, of course, it is Streisand who is the subject of the director’s uninterrupted gaze. Lit and posed in an old-time movie star way you rarely see anymore, she plays out her career-long is-she-or-isn’t-she-beautiful comic psychodrama one more time, with the girlish uncertainties wiped out with the speed of a costume change. If one were to take it all seriously, one would have to point out that there just isn’t that much difference in Rose Before and After, that Streisand hasn’t allowed herself to look unappealing enough to justify the big change. No matter. The narcissism on display is astonishing to behold, and veteran Barbra watchers will have a field day.

Beyond that, pic does deliver a number of laughs, deep-dish luxury on the production side and an engagingly enthusiastic performance from Bridges, who represses his studly side behind a bow tie and a naive, then overly logical, then totally flustered demeanor.

The Mirror Has Two Faces

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a TriStar Pictures presentation in association with Phoenix Pictures of an Arnon Milchan/Barwood Films production. Produced by Barbra Streisand, Arnon Milchan. Executive producer, Cis Corman. Co-executive producer, Ronald Schwary. Directed by Barbra Streisand. Screen story and screenplay, Richard LaGravenese, based on the film "Le Miroir a Deux Faces," written by Andre Cayatte, Gerard Oury, directed by Cayatte.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Dante Spinotti, Andrzej Bartkowiak; editor, Jeff Werner; music, Marvin Hamlisch; "Love Theme" composed by Streisand; production design, Tom John; art direction, Teresa Carriker-Thayer; set decoration, John Alan Hicks; costumes, Theoni V. Aldredge; sound (Dolby/SDDS), Thomas Nelson; assistant director, Amy Sayres; second unit camera, Richard Quinlan; casting, Bonnie Finnegan, Todd Thaler. Reviewed at the Village Theater, L.A., Nov. 7, 1996. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 126 MIN.

With

Rose Morgan - Barbra Streisand
Gregory Larkin - Jeff Bridges
Alex - Pierce Brosnan
Henry Fine - George Segal
Claire - Mimi Rogers
Doris - Brenda Vaccaro
Hannah Morgan - Lauren Bacall
Barry - Austin Pendleton
Candy - Elle Macpherson

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