Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Cinema of the Absurd: The Mirror Has Two Faces

1996, dir. Barbra Streisand

Aah yes, the mirror does indeed have two faces, and if Barbra Streisand has anything to say about it they will both be reflecting her. And hopefully there will be several mirrors and they'll all reflect off of each other there by making it appear as if the mirror has thirty eight faces, all reflecting Streisand.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love me some Barbra Streisand, especially in front of camera where I think she has incredible presence and the same can be said for this, her third effort as director after Yentl in 1983 and The Prince of Tides in 1991. All three of those titles are wildly different and that is to be applauded, but one just has to watch The Mirror Has Two Faces to realise how absurd it all it. While it's true that the film is clearly an ego booster for Streisand, something that was noted by almost ever critic at the time, it's also so far removed from anything close to reality that it's hard to believe how Streisand ever thought this was flattering to herself.

The laughs start early as Streisand's name appears, appears and appears again in the opening credits. She directs! She stars! She produces! She even writes the love theme!


The Mirror Has Two Faces is about a shleppy Jewish gal, played by Streisand, whose live-in mother (Lauren Bacall) ridicules her for never going out on dates - this is based on a French film called Le Miroir a Deux Faces and not The Golden Girls - until one day her sister responds to an ad placed by a fellow Columbia University professor (played by an admittedly dishy Jeff Bridges, why have I never noticed that before?) requesting a woman whose looks are not important because he's fed up with purely sexual relationships with vacuous women like Elle Macpherson. Yeah, I know. He must have it tough!

From there these two continue on the most baffling of relationships. They go on dates to the symphony during which Bridges' Gregory brings along a device that presents the music in graphics. It's like those iTunes or Real Player visualisers, but... ya know, incredibly lame.

Don't worry though, it's apparently great fun!

Just look how much fun they're having! It's like it's 1984 and everyone's invited! How can you deny them their fun? You're mean.

I just found video of the scene! It's dubbed, but you still get the pure, unbridled joy that is present in Barbra and Jeff as they watch red dots fly about on screen to the tune of "Carol of the Bells".

Of course, that joy was not meant to last and eventually their relationships hits a snag. They get married, but still don't begin to have sex. They sleep in separate beds and basically just act like friends. She leaves him and runs away (to her mothers Central Park West apartment, naturally). What follows next is one of the few remaining joys left in a world filled with terrorism, war, famine and Ana Kokkinos: THE MONTAGE! And not just any montage, but a mixing of three of the greatest kinds of montages - the fitness montage, the make over montage and the shopping montage. Yes, The Mirror Has Two Faces features a hat-trick of montages. This is very amazing, folks! Just watch as Barbra's character trains in the gym to blossom like her character name, Rose.

Watch as Barbra attends a class and can't stay in time!

Watch as Barbra ride an exercycle in a room all by herself AND MIRRORS!!!

Watch as Barbra pushes herself to the physical limit!

Watch as Barbra eats a carrot omg!!

Of course, all of this leads to the big reveal during a romantic dinner with her husband. And here is where the "wow, she has a big ego" comes in since after seeing the New and Improved Jeff Bridges thinks she's too good looking! Too sexy! Too vivacious! I can imagine Streisand reading the screenplay by Richard LaGravenese and thinking there should be a "Hello gorgeous!" put in just for kicks.

From there Streisand continues to make scenes in which characters mention how beautiful she looks now. My favourite moment is the cafeteria scene between her and Brenda Vaccaro in which she wears the snappy power skirt/suit ensemble seen below second from the left. And that hair. THAT HAIR!

That scene features another memorable slice of dialogue between Streisand and Vaccaro in which Brenda is portrayed as a disgusting fat pig. No, I'm completely serious!

Rose Morgan: I just can't eat a greasy cheesburger in the middle of the day anymore. Doesn't it bloat you?
Doris: Bloat me? No, it doesn't bloat me! Actually I thought it went real well with the spare ribs I had for breakfast.

Hah! That's amazing. Streisand's Rose is being blinded by her new clothes and hair and not realising she's becoming a total bitch!

However, my favourite post-makeover moment is most definitely the classroom sequence in which her students are positively agog with expressing their astonishment at their hideously festering frumpy teacher's upheaval.

"Yes, I have breasts. They cannot, however, be the subject of one of your papers."

That is actual dialogue from The Mirror Has Two Faces! Does that not amaze you? I find it hilarious that these kids have clearly been alive for at least 18 years and yet they have apparently never met anyone who decided to change their hair.

These students, however, bring me to the raison d'ĂȘtre for the Cinema of the Absurd entry. Yes, the rest of the movie completely bat shit bonkers for a romantic comedy, but nothing else in the movie quite accomplishes the levels of absurdity needed than the lecture scene early in the film during which Streisand's character gives, quite literally, a stand-up routine to a lecture hall full of university students on the nature of romance, sex and love in novels. I feel the only way I can truly let you experience the glory of this sequence is by showing it to you in full. But, be warned, anybody who has ever stepped foot on a university campus may very well fall out of their chairs laughing.

Did you not love it?

Let's watch it again!

Honestly, words can ALMOST not express the feelings I experienced whilst watching this scene for the first time (and then the second and third and fourth and fifth, no kidding!) Despite the fact that Barbra posits herself as very much the centre of the universe (screencap below), but also that the levels of fantasy in these brief few minutes are just so outlandish that people who have never seen the movie fail to believe such a scene even exists.

How about all that canned sitcom laughter? I've had some humourous teachers in my time, but none made me guffaw at the end of every single line. They all but give her a standing ovation at the end of her skit lecture. I also can't imagine that many students studying literature cramming themselves into a lecture hall to hear such "academic" words as "when we fall in love we hear Puccini in our heads". Oh my. Of course that line of dialogue itself brings about the film's crowning achievement. A single solitary shot. Puccini? Yeah!

I don't know about you, but mentions of Puccini no doubt bring on a bout of pumping my fist into the air and nodding my head in approval. Yeah! Puccuni! Mad props to Puccini, if you like. And, yes, that is indeed an uncredited Eli Roth sitting behind the fist-pumping, moustachiod, knitted tennis sweater wearing douche with early-onset balding who looks like the lead singer of Ultravox. I think even Barbra would be horrified!

Yes, thank you Barbra for agreeing with me!

There's another scene later in which Jeff Bridges' character, a boring fuddy duddy of a teacher, has taken lessons from Streisand on how to get a class interested in what you're teaching and apparently all it takes is to wear jeans and a polo shirt and make baseball analogies. Doing so results in wild hysteria!

I mean, look at the black woman who found his joke ("I'll have to ask my wife", hilarious) so funny that she has to flail her hands about over her face. Or what about the Asian woman two rows back. And, personally, I find the out-of-place old man in the third row to be really creepy and off-putting. He looks like a mummified corpse with a bad toupee.

In conclusion, The Mirror Has Two Faces" (or maybe it should be called Barbra Streisand's The Mirror Has Two Faces: Barbra Streisand) is definitely absurd. It's hard to fathom what exactly Streisand was thinking when she made this movie. It's just an incredibly bizarre experience to watch this movie. It's over two hours long - I even tweeted at the one-hour mark that "I seriously dunno how it will fill another hour!" - and it sure feels like it, but there's enough absurdity to almost make it worth it. Although if you're not quite sure you can make through the entire 126 minute running time (she doesn't stop even when the end credits start to role, although I do admit to guiltily really liking "I Finally Found Someone". Oh my) then simple watch up until the infamous lecture sequence and be done with it. I give it a rating of 4/5 on the scientifically-proven Absurdity Scale.

I just want to end with this image because, really, why not?

Oh Barbra!


Brook Brooks said...

I'm quite thankful that Bacall has a Lifetime Achievement Oscar coming to top off her career.

... And not this. Just sayin'.


"The Mirror Has Two Faces is about a shleppy Jewish gal, played by Streisand, whose live-in mother (Lauren Bacall) ridicules her for never going out on dates -this is based on a French film called Le Miroir a Deux Faces and not The Golden Girls -"


Glenn Dunks said...

I am aware that Dorothy and Sophia aren't Jewish, but it's still the same concept.

Scott said...


I haven't read something this funny in a long time! the funny thing is, i just watched this on my netflix on demand at work and you're right, i even looked at my watch 38 minutes in and wondered how the hell it would stretch to two hours?!!! right on about jeff bridges, he is a bit dishy in this one...

Catherine said...

Glenn, I've read this piece three times and I still can't stop laughing. Easily the funniest thing I've read all week. I think I know what my Friday night rental is going to be...

julianstark said...

I thought this film was surprisingly good... but I must admit that I totally lol'd while reading your review of it, and in a good way. Great stuff, Glenn.

"Watch as Barbra eats a carrot omg"

I do disagree with you in one aspect though: since when did Miss Streisand posit herself the center of the universe? #sarcasm

Glenn Dunks said...

Thanks guys!

Glenn Dunks said...

Wow, I just noticed a bunch of typos. Edited now!

GayAsXmas said...

The best capper to the whole film was Binoche beating Bacall to the Oscar. Firstly, because Binoche was so much better than Bacall. And secondly because Bacall's expression was absolutely priceless

scpllck said...

The whole time I was reading this, I kept saying to myself, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but did you notice Eli Roth in the lecture hall? Did ya?" And you did. I was deflated. I was so smug. Love your post. Funny as hell.

Simon said...

Thanks god for compensation Oscars.

AmaliaPorAmor said...

LOL! I'm a Streisand fan and I liked Mirror, but this is hilarious!!! Love this!

You should do some "Cinema of the Absurd" with Madonna because as an actress she blows the absurdity scale!

Oh, and you are cuuuute! ;)