Barbra Streisand's new film “The Mirror Has Two Faces” approaches the subject of marriage warily and with wit, like a George Bernard Shaw play; two articulate people talk circles around love for two acts before falling exhausted before the biological imperative in the third. Streisand plays Rose, a professor of literature who has more or less given up on her marriage prospects, when she meets Gregory (Jeff Bridges), a man she really likes. He really likes her, too. The key words here are “really likes,” which are not the same as “really loves.” Rose, 40ish in the movie, is in the dumps because of the marriage of her sister (Mimi Rogers) to a handsome new husband (Pierce Brosnan). Rose's own dating circle seems to be limited to a nerd with an infectious grin (Austin Pendleton). Her sister, in desperation, answers a lonely-hearts ad, and Rose and Gregory find themselves out on a date together.
Gregory is the kind of man who believes he cannot function well if he's in love. In an awkward and unconvincing early scene, he is giving a talk on mathematical theory when he spots his ex-wife in the audience, falters, blathers, and flees from the stage. Desperate, he calls a phone sex line (for advice, not sex) and that leads to his lonely-hearts ad and the big first date with Rose, at which he exclaims “beautiful!” as he looks at the sound waves on an oscilloscope while attending a concert.
Later, they discuss prime numbers. He is amazed by how smart she is. She is amazed by how much she is attracted to him. So attracted that when he proposes marriage she agrees to his terms: No sex, no physical affection, just “a meeting of two minds”--respect and friendship and none of that messy stuff to get in the way. This works for a while, until she gets carried away and puts on a sexy nightgown, and he locks himself in the bathroom.
The screenplay, by Richard LaGravenese, based on an earlier French film, is like a Shaw play--”Pygmalion,” in fact, except that this Higgins has nothing to teach his Eliza, and she has everything to teach him. It's rare to find a film that deals intelligently with issues of sex and love, instead of just assuming that everyone on the screen and in the audience shares the same popular culture assumptions.