Lauren Bacall in THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES (1996)

There are portraits of a familiar face in the New York City apartment of Hannah and Rose Morgan.  It’s the face of one of classic Hollywood’s great beauties – Lauren Bacall.

THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES, Lauren Bacall, 1996
THE MIRROR HAS TWO FACES, Lauren Bacall, 1996

Seeing Bacall’s face in those pictures alongside her marvelous portrayal of Hannah in Barbra Streisand‘s The Mirror Has Two Faces only enhances the movie and its theme of the importance placed on physical beauty.  We don’t need reminders of what Lauren Bacall looked like, what she sounded like or her place in the pantheon of our beloved golden era of the movies.  But it sure is wonderful to have and recognize that connection and have it play a part in what was to be a premiere role in a legendary career.

“It’s the best part I’ve been offered in a long time.”

Barbra Streisand insisted on casting Lauren Bacall to play her mother in The Mirror Has Two Faces.  And it proved a terrific choice.  As Hannah Morgan, the overbearing, but comical mother Bacall delivers a heartfelt, yet sardonic performance.   From the moment we meet Hannah, wearing an over-the-top purple number to her daughter’s wedding we know we want to see a lot of this woman.  For old and new time’s sake.

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The Mirror Has Two Faces is about relationships – romantic and familial – with the matter of beauty streaming throughout.  Is beauty a burden or a curse?  Can a successful marriage be forged without physical attraction?  Those types of issues are addressed in Mirror, worthy topics of discussion that are handled with care, maturity and laughter.   Because a lot of that has to do with Barbra Streisand I’ll start my laundry list of reasons why this is a movie worth watching with her.  I adore her.  Just like the camera does.  A movie star and director to be lauded, Ms. Streisand is all-too-often recognized for neither of those.  The Mirror Has Two Faces is not her best outing, but it is superior to most romantic comedies made today.  This is a moving picture that succeeds in challenging or questioning relationship norms.  It doesn’t hurt that there’s also a flair for the classic throughout the movie like fast-paced dialogue, a throw-back to when that sort of thing mattered and something both Streisand and Bacall happen to excel at.  An added bonus is that classic movies are actually referenced throughout Mirror.

The rest of the cast is memorable here too.  Jeff Bridges who I also happen to be a big fan of plays it straight and is the cause of several very funny moments in this movie.  Bridges is a pleasure to watch in everything not only because of his high level of handsomeness, but also because he’s e a great actor.  Then there’s Pierce Brosnan, Mimi Rogers, Brenda Vaccaro and George Segal to enjoy.  Segal’s turn in Mirror reunites him with Streisand after twenty-five years.  They co-starred in Herbert Ross’ hilarious The Owl and the Pussycat (1970).

The Story of Mirror

Jeff Bridges is Gregory Larkin, a Columbia University math professor and author who, according to his students is “too boring to be gay.”  Larkin has a problem engaging young minds and disengaging from beautiful women.  Every time he’s near a beautiful woman he’s rendered unable to think.  After his last break-up Gregory decides that what he wants is a relationship with a woman with whom he can share all of the important things in life – companionship, interests and so forth but NO physical attraction.  According to Mr. Larkin sex is the root of all relationship evils so taking it out of the mix should make for a lasting union without pretense.  Bent on forging ahead with his theory he places an ad in a newspaper.

Rose Morgan (Streisand) is a plain-looking English Literature professor at Columbia University who shares an apartment with her vain, judgmental, opinionated mother Hannah.  Rose’s sister, Claire (Rogers) is a diva who when the movie begins is preparing to marry Alex (Brosnan) who Rose introduced her to and is in love with.  The marriage of Claire and Alex leaves Rose feeling vulnerable, wondering if she’ll ever find a man who will love her for who she is.  Unbeknownst to Rose Claire answers Gregory Larkin’s ad on her behalf.

Gregory and Rose start dating and he is immediately impressed by her intelligence and sense of humor.  It turns out she is one of the few people who actually understands his boring mathematical theories.  She is also a great conversationalist and lecturer who helps him better engage his students.   Gregory is soon convinced his theory about the no sex thing is right on target.

As for Rose – she is taken by having such a great looking man as Gregory Larkin interested in her in any way.  And when Gregory suddenly proposes she accepts even though she finds his theory of “no sex” strange, an opinion echoed by Hannah who adds that it’s also unnatural during one of their enjoyable mother-daughter exchanges.  (As an aside – during the premiere of The Mirror Has Two Faces Lauren Bacall was asked about the one element a successful marriage can’t do without.  She replied, “If you can’t laugh, forget it!”)

Anyway – Rose and Gregory manage to forge a marriage based on friendship and similar interests and all is dandy.  Or so Gregory thinks.  Until one morning before the two head off to work when Rose asks, “is it ok if I ask for sex tonight?” or something like that.  Gregory spits up his coffee and stammers in agreement so Rose puts her seduction plan into motion.  Unfortunately the romantic evening doesn’t go off as planned and Rose gets her heart broken.  She returns home to Hannah with deepened insecurities about her physical appearance, which sets the stage for a heart-to-heart with her mother.  Hannah feels the loss of her fading beauty, but she can still boast to having been one.  Rose wants to know what that was like and asks, which leaves Hannah to think for an entire night about her own life and the fact she’d settled.  She confesses to Rose in the morning about her one regret in life – she’d never felt for a man what Rose feels for Gregory.  A heartfelt scene results.

Bacall’s Mirror

One of my favorite things about Lauren Bacall is that there was little, if any, facade to her.  What you saw was what you got – what she saw was what she said.  This is unlike her character in The Mirror Has Two Faces.

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Playing a woman who places a lot of important on physical beauty and appearances, Hannah ends up affectingly vulnerable when the facade is stripped away.  What I like best about the scene in the kitchen the morning after a night of regret is that there is exhaustion and there is mourning, but there are no tears from Hannah, which makes it that much more powerful.  Barbra Streisand kept Lauren Bacall up all night to make sure she looked and sounded physically tired during this scene.  It worked on all levels.   A mirror held up on a lifetime recounted in a few moments.  You don’t like what you see, but you have to accept it.

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Lauren Bacall received her only competitive Academy Award nomination for her performance in The Mirror Has Two Faces, as well as one of her two BAFTA nominations – the other was for Don Siegel’s The Shootist (1976).  She also won her one and only competitive Golden Globe Award for this movie with the Award presented by Mirror co-star Jeff Bridges.

The Mirror Has Two Faces proved an important film in the legendary career of Lauren Bacall.  That’s the reason I chose this as the subject of my submission to the Lauren Bacall Blogathon hosted by In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood to commemorate the anniversary of Bacall’s birthday on September 16th, 1924.

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Upon learning of Lauren Bacall’s death Barbra Streisand said, “It was my privilege to have known her, to have acted with her and to have directed her. And, most of all, to have had her as a wise and loving friend.  She was an original.”

Be sure to visit the Lauren Bacall Blogathon to read many more entries dedicated to one of the screen’s great beauties and talents.  Bacall will never be forgotten.

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20 thoughts

  1. I saw this film 19 years ago November, the night before my daughter (and first kid) was born. I will always remember it, if not only just for that reason, but also that I enjoyed it. Thanks for the review and the reminder.

  2. I vaguely remember this film, but I’m pretty certain it’s something my mom and I would have run to the theater to see together and then out to the diner to cry, discuss and get all verklempt about! It’s going on my re-watch list right now! great review and tribute to one of the GREATEST ladies!!!! -Cheers Joey PS: that includes Streisand too… I can’t listen to her sing without tearing up she’s so magnificent at bringing out the emotions!

    1. Barbra’s a unique talent and gets a bad wrap all around. She should be applauded for her directing especially. Anyway – glad you liked this look at it. Let me know what you think when you rewatch it. There are a few annoying little things, but an overall enjoyable movie with a great cast.

      Aurora

  3. Nice post as usual, Aurora. I confess that I usually don’t like more contemporary films but this makes me want to see it. Hard to believe that Bacall won her first Golden Globe that late in her career with all her other great performances.

    Tam

  4. i adore this movie, I still have the old VHS copy I bought when I was a kid, and I refuse to toss it (though the upgade to DVD happened long ago.) Thanks for giving me an excuse to re-watch
    -Summer

  5. I’ve never gotten around to watching this – fearful I think, that it would be overly romanticised or too melodramatic. It’s interesting that – as an actress known for her physical beauty – she was willing to play with it and against it. It’s a shame there’s not more opportunities for contemporary actresses to do the same.

  6. That breakfast scene is one my most favorite movie moments of all. Babs keeping her up like that explains the authenticity of the exhaustion – thanks for that cool tidbit! – but their dialogue is what still moves me so. Funny, you and I have same movie here too! 🙂 Love this post! Great background info!

  7. Great essay, Aurora. People don’t give Barbra Streisand enough credit as a director. The breakfast scene is a masterpiece. I’m glad you threw Lauren Bacall’s quote “If you can’t laugh, forget it!” — As a long-time happily married person, I agree completely.

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