I used to be one of those wide-eyed classical romantics. I believed in true love. I believed that monogamy was the basic building block of the human mating process. I believed that there was just one person out there for me and it was a matter of time til I found her. Perhaps because I stopped believing in silly things like fate, religion, and destiny, I’ve completely come to understand how silly the last belief was, and while I’d like to believe that the first two might be true, I have my serious doubts. People complain about the destruction of the conventional marriage and the erosion of the family, but maybe we only created those social constructs because a long time ago we needed them to survive. What happens when we’re able to survive in a world without the nuclear family? Do our inherent hedonistic tendencies subvert the idea that most people are capable of loving just one person the rest of their life? Is there anything wrong with recognizing that perhaps this just isn’t possible for you? To me, it’s a far more honest approach than being in a relationship where you proclaim monogamy but secretly yearn for infidelity (or even cheat). The whole question of modern love and the lies that are inherent in our perhaps fantasy love lives lies at the center of James Toback’s Two Girls and a Guy and while it has some flaws (a terribly unnecessary ending), it’s still a thought-provoking and razor sharp film.
In a considerable inversion of the “love triangle” tale, James Toback’s story presents a far more morally ambiguous (and therefore more intellectually satisfying) tale. Carla (Austin Power‘s Heather Graham) and Lou (Natasha Gregson Williams) both wait outside of the same NYC apartment and strike up a conversation. They’re both waiting for their boyfriend to come home and as the very talkative Lou begins to spill details about her boyfriend, Carla realizes they’re waiting to see the same man. They’ve both been dating Blake Allen (Robert Downey Jr.), a narcissistic actor/singer with a bit of an oedipal complex, and they both showed up on his door step to surprise him at the exact same time. They decide to break into his apartment to confront him about his infidelity, and while Blake turns out to be exactly the sort of wishy-washy cheater you expect him to be, Carla and Lou’s ambush doesn’t settle things as cleanly as they want, and they’re forced to examine that perhaps they aren’t as morally clean as they want to believe either.
This movie literally boils down to three people talking for 90 minutes (with one graphic sex scene between two of them at the halfway mark), so if that’s not your thing, you should just go ahead and stop reading now. This movie isn’t going to be for you. These characters never shut up (especially Lou), and if you find the concept of three self-absorbed bourgeois New Yorkers talking about rich white people problems as completely unbearable, you will really, really despise Two Girls and a Guy. I enjoy a good philosophical discussion, and this film tries to reach right into the heart of why people cheat. It examines why we create these fictions in our lives that we know we can’t maintain. It looks at what it is in us psychologically that makes some people able to be happy with one person why some of us can’t really find that. It asks whether that first group of people are even happy at all or if they’re just pretending. It even acts as a commentary on why actors pursue that field because it allows them to create fictions that fill the holes of unhappiness in their lives. Unlike the last “talky” film I watched, Interview, I never felt like Two Girls and a Guy stretched itself beyond its capabilities in terms of the questions it asked, and even if it didn’t provide clear answers to all of those questions, that was also one of the main themes of the film, which is that life is one massive moral gray area.
Before I talk about the performances (one amazing, one good, one subpar), let me just state that Robert Downey Jr. has aged like a fucking champ. This movie is 15 years older, and while he certainly looks younger in this film, is it weird for me as a straight man to say that he’s only gotten more handsome since this film? Seriously though, Robert Downey Jr. stole this film. He’s supposed to be the bad guy (kind of), but he’s such a consummate performer (and he’s playing a character who’s so absorbed in his own performances and deceits and fantasies) that you can’t help but understand why these women still have very complicated feelings for him even after they discover that he’s a cheating bastard. I overuse this word to describe highly passionate performances, but Downey Jr. could be downright feral in this role, and it’s a reminder of a day when he known more for picking high-risk, emotionally demanding roles instead of a never-ending string of good roles in blockbusters (not that I’ll deny a man a living. I just miss the more unpredictable Downey Jr.). Heather Graham was surprisingly effective in this role because I’ve never thought of her as a good actress. Unfortunately, Natasha Gregson Wagner was mostly annoying, and she couldn’t keep up with the better performances surrounding her.
The above photo is a promotional still of the movie and not an actual screenshot (like I normally try to use). In an unsurprising fact, if you do a Google search of “two girls and a guy,” it’s going to provide you with more pornographic images than actual screenshots from this film. Anyways, if you are a fan of the subversive 90s romantic dramedy subgenre that I feel will never live up to the standard set by Chasing Amy, you should give Two Girls and a Guy a try. Yes, Natasha Gregson Williams is incredibly irritating and the ending seems even more forced and unnecessary than Interview‘s, but if you can look past those minor quibbles, it’s a fun, fresh, and witty examination of modern relationships. If every rom-com/romantic drama were as brutally honest as this, perhaps the sexes in this nation would have a more sincere and genuine conversation about relationships than the unrealistic escapist fantasies that Hollywood prefers to foist upon us.
Final Score: B+