The Mirror has Two Faces - 1996

Two college professors pursue love and marriage while trying to maintain conflicting ideas about love and themselves.

Jeff Bridges - Professor Gregory Larkin
Barbra Streisand - Professor Rose Morgan
126 minutes long.



In The Mirror Has Two Faces, a comedy about love and female self-improvement, Professor Gregory Larkin (a mathematician played by Jeff Bridges) wreaks havoc in his life whenever he goes weak-kneed and dizzy over an attractive woman (always red-headed in this film), and his co-star (and director!) Barbra Streisand is red-headed (mostly) throughout the movie and she is the cause of his final upheaval which leads to real love.

It takes this movie thirty minutes for these two professors to get together, but when they do they may as well be speaking in foreign languages to each other. Both are smart and adorable, both think they've got the other person figured out, but it's their cluelessness about themselves that wrecks their budding friendship, and makes for the final scenes in which Larkin has to finally abandon all of his nutty ideas which he has created in order to protect himself from females (primarily red-headed ones).

Which is too bad! If any two Columbia University professors needed friends, it's these two. Not that they do not already have friends - - Professor Larkin's buddy is Professor Fine (George Segal) who stands by helplessly while his common-sense suggestions go completely unheard, and Professor Morgan's shallow but brutally practical sister Claire (Mimi Rogers) offers many astute observations which are likewise unheeded. Also on hand is Professor Morgan's judgmental and ridiculing mother (Lauren Bacall) and Claire's self-obsessed husband Alex (Pierce Brosnan).

But what these two professors need is an opportunity to make fools of themselves with each other, not theoretical wisdom, and that's exactly what they get. Professor Larkin, after humiliating himself with a red-headed ex-girlfriend who unexpectedly showed-up at a book-signing for his latest mathematical tome, calls up a phone-sex operator in desperation (the operator is Felicia, played by Lucy Brooks) and Larkin demands an explanation for why "women leave." He should be asking why do women leave him but he thinks his dilemma is a universal condition, and a slightly confused Felicia suggests he take-out a personals ad. Which he does, announcing he is interested in meeting a woman but he is not interested in physical looks (however he does require a Ph.d.!)

And who sees this advertisement but the recently married Claire, sister of Professor Rose Morgan. Her husband, the wealthy and handsome Alex, was actually initially interested in Rose (who is still nursing something of an unrequited infatuation for Alex) but who had quickly moved on to Claire, who seems to have married him out of masochism (she starts loathing him at the marriage reception, and this only multiplies as she gets to know him. But who Claire seems to really loathe is herself.)

Claire answers Professor Larkin's ad in order to set up her sister Rose (and nurse her guilt over stealing Alex away), and soon Larkin attends one of Professor Morgan's lectures on romantic love at the college where they both teach. He is mightily impressed, chiefly because he has to leave the lecture before it is finished and all he got to hear was that in the Elizabethan era there was a "courtly love" in which (in theory) a lady and a knight would share a romantic companionship which did not include any sexual relations, but instead was an attempt at creating "a union of souls" through friendship and chastity.

This notion sounds pretty good to Larkin, as all his previous experiences show he is irrational and self-destructive once he "feels" anything for a girl (chiefly he seems to feel dizzy; he spends a portion of this movie with his head between his legs trying to get over nausea.) However, because he had to leave before the lecture concluded, he does not know that the lecturer, Rose Morgan the gal he is going to be asking for a date, doesn't buy into the whole "courtly love" idea, but instead is only presenting it in the abstract as a historical footnote.

Soon the two professors are arranged to meet for a dinner date in which Professor Morgan (Streisand) is accessorized heavily, only to have most of it blown apart by riding in a cab with a broken, open window in the middle of a New York winter. She shows up disheveled, and Professor Larkin does not even notice, after all she was exactly punctual by his watch and anything to do with numbers trumps everything else with this guy. As they chat over food, his good impression of her grows and grows - - in fact it is magnified exponentially when she is able to understand his meandering mini-lecture about prime numbers. It is tragic that Larkin has not noted (consciously) that Professor Morgan has red hair and therefore he is doomed.

The friendship the two share grows, and they are dating regularly. After attending a concert where Larkin spent all his time analyzing wave-forms from the sound generated by the musicians on a pocket gizmo he brought along (he seems to need to break everything down into numbers in order to handle life in general) the two friends are outside and Morgan hears Larkin's grand acceptance of a romantic theory he thinks Rose put forward in her class that day when he saw her for the first time:

Prof. Larkin: "Why don't you come up to my apartment? I live just across the street. I want to give you a copy of my book."

Prof. Morgan: "Oh, I'd love that... I mean a copy of your book. I don't mean to imply that I want to come up to your apartment or anything."

Prof. Larkin: "But Rose, I am inviting you up."

Prof. Morgan:"Oh, yeah, well..."

Prof. Larkin: "If you like this kind of music, I have some wonderful CDs, but, uh... they're also in my apartment."

Prof. Morgan: "Greg, Uh, I have to be honest with you, I'm a little out of practice at this..."

Prof. Larkin: "Rose, I want you to feel comfortable, that's very important to me..."

Prof. Morgan:"It is?"

Prof. Larkin: "Yes, so, I want to tell you up front, I'm not interested in sex."

Prof. Morgan: "You're not?"

Prof. Larkin: "No. And it has nothing to do with you..."

Prof. Morgan: "It doesn't?"

Prof. Larkin: "No, it actually has to do with what you were talking about in your class the other day..."

Prof. Morgan: "It does?"

Prof. Larkin: "I too believe that it is illusions about love and the emphasis on sex that keep people today separate and alone, and! and! and! as you said yourself, romance is a myth! A manipulation! "

Prof. Morgan: "No, no, no... I was referring to academic opinion! "

And there you have it, the problem they'll both have to overcome in order to live a relatively normal existence with each other, because they obviously want and need to be with each other, but both have produced slightly crazy rules and expectations to control what in the past has been the source of only pain and humiliation. The comedy of this film begins to amplify, and especially the oddball, bow-tie wearing Professor Larkin (Bridges) who doesn't quite understand (but thinks he does) what's happening when he marries Rose. She, on the other hand, sees a challenge to overcome, especially in the sense of their conjugal relations - - Larkin promises but can't deliver, and why? Because finally he seems to be noticing Rose isn't just an intellectual companion, but an attractive woman with red hair.

Of course, it's all going to work out and these two are inevitably meant for each other like chocolate and peanut butter. But getting there is the fun of this picture, and even though some unnecessary seriousness pops into view at times, such as when Rose goes on a journey of 'self-discovery' and her discovery is that she can shape up and out-glamorize her sister Claire, who is horrified - - and bitterly saddened - - by the spectacle (she thought Rose was above such things), there is also some unresolved tensions with mother (Lauren Bacall) that are confronted in such a stiff manner the film suddenly stops being a comedy but transforms into a stage play with static camera angles and long, meaningful pauses. But, Streisand the director hardly takes too much time to dwell on these, and cranks the comedy back to speed, and we are treated to Jeff Bridges' Professor Larkin going further and further over the edge as he is faced with the problem of having to choose between his loony theory of "courtly love" or the real life woman he married and who isn't coming back until he gets over himself.

Original Page Dec 2008 | Updated Dec 2017

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