Secondhand Rose

Streisand's fun-house Mirror warps her strengths into rare weaknesses

Bridges tries hard to fit into the scheme of things, and he's endearingly game, but his actor's instincts are too sharp for what he's called upon to do. There's a whiff of cruelty in the way Greg keeps putting off Rose by pretending their arrangement is heavensent, and Bridges must sense it. He just can't act on it; the film won't let him. The notion that this blithe, romanceless romancer might be punishing Rose for loving him is too psychologically dark for this film's enforced cheeriness. And yet the notion is there anyway: It's not the phony-sleek Pierce Brosnans of the world whom women need to beware of; it's the smiley, heartfelt Jeff Bridges-with-a-bow-tie types.

The miscasting we may sense with Streisand relates to something deeper: It relates to what the movie is about. She is playing an unloved Plain Jane who finally recognizes her own lovableness. Now, no one should be so naive as to presume that the famous and the beautiful who walk among us are not without their vast pockets of insecurity. For artists--and Streisand is overpoweringly an artist--that insecurity could well be the engine of their art. Still, Streisand grossly underestimates our estimation of her. We've grown beyond the ugly-duckling notions in The Mirror Has Two Faces, because Streisand, in her best films, has helped us to grow beyond them.

In such films as Funny Girl, The Owl and the Pussycat, The Way We Were, Up the Sandbox, and Yentl, she is so much more beautiful than the conventionally glamorous types because she is so much more phenomenally, and unapologetically, talented. Streisand has made a movie about the transformative powers of love, but as a performer, she has forgotten the self-transforming powers of her own great gifts. She smothers those gifts in the service of a conception that is contradicted by her very presence. When, in her misery at being cast off, Rose gazes mournfully into her mirror, some of us may have the same uneasy feeling we had when such actresses as Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn, in their later movies, started misting over and quenching the fire we loved them for. As actresses grow older, they need to be tougher--for their sakes as well as ours.

The Mirror Has Two Faces could turn out to be a big hit; it's jam-packed with entertaining bits, and it pulls on the heartstrings. Also--witness the success of Waiting to Exhale and The First Wives Club--there now seems to be a commercial niche for movies in which wronged women rise up and turn the tables on male pigglywigglies. It's payback time. Women especially may be flattered by the notion that Streisand is speaking to--and maybe sharing in--their own romantic hangups.

But Streisand mousy and mock-glamorous is Streisand partially wasted. Maybe The Mirror Has Two Faces will serve the same function for her that The Last Temptation of Christ did for Scorsese. Maybe it's the long-held project she had to get out of her system in order to finally move beyond it.

Streisand's long-term absences from the screen are deprivations for us far crueler than anything Greg perpetrates with Rose. Her infrequent movie appearances are made to carry more weight than they can bear; they become instant Events. They should become regular events. Our movies need the brass and the lyricism and the low-slung humor that Streisand can bring--as performer and director. There are two faces in Streisand's Mirror, and they are not among her best. She has many more, and she's so ecstatically gifted that no one mirror could ever contain them all.

The Mirror Has Two Faces. Barbra Streisand, Jeff Bridges, Lauren Bacall, Mimi Rogers, Pierce Brosnan, George Segal, Brenda Vaccaro. Written by Richard LaGravanese. Directed by Barbra Streisand. Now playing.

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