Fox // 1998 // 84 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gary Militzer (Retired) // June 5th, 2001
"I'm an actor, and actors lie." -- Blake Allen (Robert Downey Jr.)
Robert Downey Jr.'s recent battles with drug addiction are well documented and nauseatingly publicized. Indeed, his personal downfall has been publicly monitored to the point that his very persona seems to exist almost solely as a caricature of absurdist tragi-comedy fodder for the tabloid trash-media feeding frenzy. The mere mention of his name generally elicits the mechanized, Pavlovian chuckle and knowing nod of a shopworn punchline for late-night comedians. Downey's demons are neither laughable nor tragic.
In early 1998, writer/director James Toback (Black and White, Love in Paris) saw a handcuffed, disheartened Downey on television being led to prison for drug charges. The two had worked together way back in 1987 on Toback's The Pick-Up Artist and remained friendly over the years. Distressed by Downey's then just-beginning legal entanglements and emotional state, Toback decided to write a special part just for him. Written in about a week, and filmed a mere two months later over an intense 11-day shooting schedule in an actual New York loft, the confessional Two Girls and a Guy was the end result of this collaborative mad season.
Two beautiful women stand in front of a Manhattan apartment building, both waiting to surprise their respective boyfriend after his flight back into town. Lou (Natasha Gregson Wagner, Urban Legend, High Fidelity) is the perky, talkative one, droning on and on about how perfect her new artist boyfriend is. It doesn't take long for Carla (Heather Graham, Boogie Nights, Drugstore Cowboy, Bowfinger) to realize that they're both sharing the same lover, Blake Allen (Robert Downey Jr., Wonder Boys, Natural Born Killers, Chaplin).
The betrayal discovered, the girls quickly break into his loft, expecting only to berate the two-timing actor as he comes home. They hide and listen as Blake arrives and promptly leaves phone messages for both his paramours. When finally confronted by his two lovers, Blake quickly grasps for words and rationalizations to explain his chicanery and manipulation. For the duration of the film, Lou and Carla defiantly remain at the loft, where sexual secrets are shared, scandalous observations are made, and raw insight is given into the confounding nature of love, lust, fidelity, and intimacy. Will the polygamous Blake ultimately learn to embrace some semblance of honesty, both to himself and the loved ones around him?
At its core, Two Girls and a Guy is a one-set, three-character stage play. It's essentially a talkative, perceptive character portrait of young, self-absorbed New Yorkers and the duplicitous nature of their foibles, fancies, loves, and frustrations. It explores that dichotomous human nature of hiding a secret something from others while likewise hiding from your inner self behind a veil of deception, constantly evading yet recognizing the need for honesty. Thankfully, the capable direction, along with the stellar performances of the three charming leads, elevates this material into something more than just a cathartic vanity production.
Toback and his director of photography Barry Markowitz employ a distinct, calculated method to the madness. Alternating shots with a fluid visual style, they mix and match expressive facial close-ups with full shots of the principal actors positioned in varying setups, at times with only two of the principals strategically placed in the frame, or all three of the them gathered together, or a solitary shot of a lone character, depending on the emotional makeup of the scene. They utilize low angle shots, high angle shots, and everything in between, never letting it feel like just a static, stationary, point-the-camera-and-shoot production. While the material may structurally resemble a staged play, its images and energetic style of direction constantly remind you that this is indeed meant to be a motion picture first and foremost.
Robert Downey, Jr. is dazzling in his performance, chewing the scenery and making his presence felt in every scene. He gets to emote, improvise, sing, play the piano, even recite Hamlet, and he does it all with a flair of bravura acting that makes you realize just how tremendously gifted he is as an artist. Downey embraces the duality of the character; behind that sleazy, snakily-charming exterior, there beats a caring, compassionate heart.
It's not surprising that this role was written specifically for Downey. His Blake is caught in a sick web of lies and deceit, and his rapid-fire rationalization is to continue to mislead and betray as some sort of justification for the sickness. Talk about art imitating life.
Note particularly the harrowing scene where Downey's Blake looks at himself in the mirror and engages in a wild solo confessional, reciting the self-analytical mantra of "got to get it together." If Downey's sad, seeming quest for self-immolation does indeed come to fruition, it's not hard to envision this eerily prescient scene being played over and over again as an obit accompaniment.
Fox presents Two Girls and a Guy with a nice 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Clean, vibrant colors, natural flesh tones, solid black level, and sharp shadow detail -- it's all here. Although largely filmed only within the apartment interiors, Two Girls and a Guy is a beautifully lit picture, and the DVD preserves this facet quite satisfactorily.
On the audio side, Two Girls and a Guy is graced with only a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. As expected for a dialogue-driven film like this, the track is adequate. The recording is clean, with only minor instances of slight hiss. You'll never strain to hear what is being said, and that really is all one should demand in this case. English and Spanish subtitles are also included in the package.
The only notable extra is a newly recorded commentary track with Toback, Downey, and Wagner all together in the same room. It's one of the better tracks I've listened to lately. Although it takes Downey awhile to make his presence felt, all participants eventually talk very openly about the film. It's obvious that they had a great time making Two Girls and a Guy, and their enthusiasm is infectious, making for a very entertaining listen. The theatrical trailer is also included, along with trailers for other quality Fox films like Titus, Ravenous, Quills, and The Ice Storm.
For whatever reasons, Fox chose to release Two Girls and a Guy on DVD in only its R-rated cut, even though the NC-17 version was previously released on both VHS and laserdisc. The only real difference between the NC-17 and R editions is literally the length of time that Blake licks Carla's perfect derriere. So we miss out on a longer, more explicit shot of the infamous Robert Downey Jr./Heather Graham oral sex scene in the loft bedroom. I'm not sure at whose request this decision was made to go with the quick cut, but why not just give the paying audience what they want; the people have spoken and they want more of Heather Graham's ass, uncut and unedited. Is that so wrong?
Also, by the very nature of its aggressively short shooting schedule, full of improvised dialogue and action, there must be at least a few interesting outtakes and deleted scenes that did not make it into the final product. Where are these snippets and why aren't they included on the DVD, Fox?
While it may not be on the same wittily observant cinematic level as, say Woody Allen's Annie Hall or Manhattan, Two Girls and a Guy is a very good film, often offering raw, humorous insight into why men and women continually screw each other over. Watch it for Downey's scathingly funny, memorable performance to remind yourself of just how truly talented an actor he is. This is a twisted Three's Company, updated with a contemporary sexual sensibility, all woven into a tight, riveting 84-minute film. For fans of this little gem, the entertaining commentary track alone will justify purchasing this disc and adding it to the permanent DVD collection.
Two Girls and a Guy is acquitted of all charges, although this court hereby issues a stern reprimand to Fox for including only the R-rated cut on this release, after previously issuing NC-17 editions on earlier formats.
Review content copyright © 2001 Gary Militzer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 1998
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* Commentary Track