Is it our fault that no one told Barbra Streisand she was pretty as a child? It must be, because she keeps making movies that punish us for our sin by trotting out a string of leading men (Omar Sharif, Robert Redford, Ryan O'Neal, Nick Nolte — name your hunk) who declare her the fairest of them all.
Mirror, her third film as a director — following the underrated Yentl and the unbearable Prince of Tides — is the ultimate Streisand vanity-revenge fantasy. Before this romantic comedy grinds to a close, every guy who ever dumped on Streisand's Rose Morgan, a frumpy professor at Columbia University, is begging for sex and forgiveness. That includes Jeff Bridges and Pierce Brosnan.
The same goes for the women, only they just beg for forgiveness. Let's start with Hannah, Rose's beautician mother, who is portrayed with style, wit and touching candor by Lauren Bacall in the film's best performance. Hannah, like Streisand's real mother, never told Rose she was pretty. She does tell her to glam up, diet and dress better. And how about a perm? "I look like Shirley Temple on crack," says Rose in a line from the script by Richard La Gravenese (The Bridges of Madison County) that gives the movie early signs of comic life until Streisand crushes the laughs with tasteless tear-jerking.
Isn't Streisand a bit mature at 54 to be playing a girl who shares a Manhattan apartment with a mom who keeps pushing marriage? Bacall acts unfaded; no fool she. Streisand gifts her with a nifty closeup as Hannah recalls what it felt like to be beautiful in her prime, and Bacall, still a knockout, lets the memories flood her face. Other women in the cast get short shrift from their competitive director. Leggy Elle Macpherson is quickly banished. Brenda Vaccaro is a one-note joke as Rose's fat friend. And Mimi Rogers, as Rose's sexy sister, must excuse herself from her big scene to go to the bathroom.
Don't fret, ladies, the men have it worse. Bridges is saddled with the idiot role of Gregory Larkin, a math teacher who agrees to marry Rose if she agrees not to ask for sex. Brosnan is Alex, another insensitive jerk, who dumps Rose for her sister until Rose gets a make-over. That's right, a make-over. A few workouts and Rose, with the right clothes, hair and makeup, is suddenly the spitting image of — ta-da! — Barbra. The director gives her star a drooling, head-to-high-heel going-over with the camera that is nothing less than cinematic masturbation. Alex pants, so do Rose's students. Gregory gets the sex he begs for but not until he tells Rose he loved her before her make-over. "You're beautiful," he says, which shuts her happily up. If that's what it takes to get Streisand to stop squandering her talent on her ego, let's go for it. All together now: "You're beautiful, Barbra."