Two Girls and a Guy James Toback

Two Girls and a Guy James Toback
Sometimes the true genre of a film can take a while to reveal itself. Such is the case with Two Girls and a Guy, which looked like just another chatty indie film when it was released in 1998. But it's clear now that it belongs to that mid- to late '90s sub-genre of minimal-characters-in-one-location-and-real-time spawned by the work of Richard Linklater and Kevin Smith. Disappointingly, Two Girls and a Guy isn't nearly as reflective as Linklater's films or as frank as Smith's. Its set-up begs for it to be though: two women (Heather Graham and Natasha Gregson Wagner), each waiting for their boyfriend to return home from a trip, realize they're dating the same man. They quickly break into his apartment and bond as they wait to surprise him with their discovery. Writer/director James Toback was 54 years old when he wrote the script – no surprise then that he has trouble writing the honest, sexual dialogue the story calls for his young female characters to say. Watching the film now, you can feel it miss the opportunity to beat 2004's Closer to its scathing portrayal of fidelity and sexual identity; it opts instead to be a sort of Empire Records for latent teenagers. So why watch this '90s relic now? Because the boyfriend in question turns out to be Robert Downey, Jr., post-Chaplin Oscar-win, pre-Kiss Kiss Bang Bang comeback. Perhaps adrift in real life at the time, his presence on-camera remains undeniable. From the second he enters singing operatically, he seems to have arrived to save the film. And while the film goes too far letting Downey, Jr. chew scenery and clearly improvise – at one point, he snaps into a gripping rendition of Shakespeare, seemingly for the hell of it – the film is all the more of an interesting tangent for having those moments. Two Girls and a Guy may play-out like an overblown acting exercise, but at the same time, it gains something watching it with hindsight. The film feels now like a time capsule that has captured both old romances and a chapter in cinema that was just as undeniably fleeting. There are no extras. (Anchor Bay)