Two Girls And A Guy

Two Girls And A Guy (1997)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Heather Graham, Natasha Gregson Wagner
Extras: Commentary Track, Interview, Trailer

Two girls stand outside a New York City apartment complex. Each is waiting for her boyfriend to arrive from the airport. One problem: they are both waiting for the same guy. Such is the predicament for Carla (Heather Graham) and Lou (Natasha Gregson Wagner), who upon meeting each other discover that they have both been dating the same man for the past 10 months. Not only that, but he has fed each one the exact same romantic lines virtually word for word, as if living out an extended theatrical performance. That thought is not entirely farfetched, as he is in fact an actor and has perfected the ability to turn on false emotions with great conviction. Frustrated and betrayed, Carla and Lou break into their mutual boyfriend's loft apartment and await his return to unleash their hellish fury.

When he arrives, Blake (Robert Downey Jr.) is caught off guard by the girls' double confrontation. Without a solid leg to stand on, the wily young man mounts a forceful but warped and illogical defense, in which he claims to have been totally honest with both girls without betraying them. Carla and Lou obviously don't buy it, but they hang around the apartment anyway, hoping to cull the truth from their incessantly lying boyfriend. Over the course of the day, the three argue, get drunk, become civil, have sex, and argue again as they examine their relationships and their romantic ideals.

Produced independently in the late 1990s, "Two Girls and a Guy" became a small hit with indie audiences, due in part to its frank examination of modern romance and its memorable device of having the characters remain in one location throughout the entire movie. For some, this may come across as a gimmick, but the beautiful loft apartment becomes as much a character in the film as its leads. With its staircases, Japanese-style paper walls, and modern furnishings (most of which belonged to the apartment's actual tenant), it provides not only an attractive location but a visual representation of the film's distinctly 90s mentality and the characters' unconventional attitudes. One clever decoration seen throughout is a poster for François Truffaut's 1961 film "Jules and Jim," about a woman who carries on complex romantic relationships with two men at the same time. It is interesting to compare the two films, especially the endings, to see the changing approaches to the concept of a love triangle.

With its one set and heavy reliance on dialogue, the movie has also frequently been accused of being uncinematic, or essentially a filmed play. Writer/director James Toback refutes this criticism, calling it "stupid" in his audio commentary, by pointing out his use of extreme close-ups on the actors' faces and his fluid camera movement, which would not be possible on stage. I can see his point, but it is hard to deny the overall theatricality of the film. As Toback himself observes, the film is very "physical," with the actors commanding the screen with their movement and delivery, much as they would on a stage. While the camera is indeed in frequent motion, its movements are subtle and the compositions clumsy, leading us to latch onto the performances more than the film's visual language. In fact, acting seems to be the major thematic element of the film, as Blake at one point attributes his lies to his profession, and the interplay between the three characters takes the form of performance art, with each acting out for the others in an attempt to prove their sense of control or self worth.

"Two Girls and a Guy" may be remembered chiefly today though for offering Robert Downey Jr. one of his best roles, allowing him to truly stretch as an actor and go wild with improvisation and quirky artistic choices. One of the film's best scenes occurs just after Blake fakes a suicide. Stripped down to his underwear and covered in fake blood, Blake stares at his reflection in the bathroom mirror, begins singing, and makes increasingly grotesque faces. As his character goes into a brief meltdown, Downey seems to bare his own outrageous deficiencies (the actor was then going through a slew of highly publicized personal problems). Toback wrote the part with Downey in mind, and it is precisely Downey's odd charisma and idiosyncrasies that make his character so involving. His own issues play well into Blake's hidden secrets. The film toys with a possible oedipal complex, but by the end it remains ambiguous. We should, by all rights, have no sympathy for Blake, who is little more than a deceitful schmuck, but it is hard to resist the actor playing the role.

In contrast to Downey's brilliance, Heather Graham and Natasha Gregson Wagner come off as much weaker players. They both have a raw energy that is admirable, especially in the first 20 minutes or so before Downey appears, but teamed with him, they seem shrill and stiff. Part of the blame must go to Toback, who never fleshes them out as much as he does with Blake. For most of the film's running time, Carla and Lou are simply a pair of women scorned. He attempts to give them added dimension in a final twist that calls into question their initial anger, but it feels half-hearted and forced.

In spite of its flaws, "Two Girls and a Guy" remains an interesting experiment of sorts. Some of it may seem pretentious, but filmed play or not, the movie is compelling just for Robert Downey Jr.'s excellent performance. As a serio-comedy, it only half succeeds. The laughs are well earned, but the attempts at serious romantic analysis fall short of poignancy. The three-character drama ultimately works better as a one-man show, but what a show it is.

For the first time since the film's VHS release, 20th Century Fox has released the uncut NC-17-rated version of "Two Girls and a Guy" exclusively on Blu-ray (the concurrent DVD release only includes the R-rated cut). Both versions are included here through seamless branching, although the difference (a few seconds in a non-nude sex scene) is relatively minor. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio in 1080p high definition on a single-layered disc. The low-budget conditions of the film and its intentionally dark appearance don't make it a brilliant addition to the format, but it apparently looks as it should. Colors are warm and vibrant, and there is a good layer of natural film grain throughout. I may have detected some edge enhancement. The image is a little soft, but I presume this has to do with the source elements rather than any fault with the transfer. The movie was filmed in fairly low lighting almost entirely inside an actual loft apartment, so detail is not abundant. This Blu-ray edition accurately reflects that.

Like the picture quality, the film's audio is not miraculous, and its flaws are only intensified in the DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track. The film is heavy on dialogue, so there is not much going on throughout this track except when all three characters are screaming at each other. Directional pull is limited, and at times the voices can be harsh while at other times a little too subdued. This is one instance where I might actually recommend the Dolby Digital 2.0 option instead, only because the audio's limitations are less obvious and hardly warrant the more elaborate treatment.

Heading off the special features is an audio commentary track ported over from Fox's original 2002 DVD release. Featuring writer/director James Toback and actors Robert Downey Jr. and Natasha Gregson Wagner, the track is lively, if a little light. Toback carries most of the weight while a giggly Gregson Wagner and Downey provide some nice anecdotes. The director does have an annoying tendency to over-praise his film, however, expressing some rather unwarranted exaltations ("the greatest entrance in film history," "the greatest meltdown in film history," etc.). This plays over the R-rated version of the film.

Up next is a new, 21-minute interview with Toback exclusive to this Blu-ray edition. He repeats some of the information from the commentary, but with a little more elaboration. The extras are rounded out by a very grainy theatrical trailer.

"Two Girls and a Guy" really lives by its central performance, and Robert Downey Jr. makes it a compelling watch. Although it is an odd candidate for a Blu-ray release, fans will want it for the uncut version.