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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Two Girls and a Guy

Discussion in 'Archived Reviews' started by Matt Hough, Nov 7, 2009.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
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    Matt Hough
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    Two Girls and a Guy (Blu-ray)

    Directed by James Toback

    Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
    Year: 1998
    Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 84 minutes
    Rating: R/NC-17
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround Spanish 
    Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
    Region: A
    MSRP: $ 29.99

    Release Date: November 3, 2009
    Review Date: November 7, 2009
    The Film
    James Toback’s Two Girls and a Guy is a kind of curious off-Broadway play/movie hybrid. It takes a single setting, talky comedy-drama that one might find in a typical off-Broadway work: intimate, sensitive, the air charged with sexuality and raw emotion and expresses it in cinematic terms filled with overhead shots, tight close-ups, and the same kind of free wheeling view of sexual and emotional situations that one might find in the avant garde works of a liberated playwright. That the writer-director takes his outstanding premise and basically lets it disintegrate before our eyes is nothing short of tragic. This film may only be a one act dramedy, but its plotting has only been thought through to a certain point; the rest is dramatically lacking and emotionally unsatisfying.
    Two very individualistic girls Carla (Heather Graham) and Lou (Natasha Gregson Wagner) are standing outside a luxurious SoHo loft, each waiting for her boyfriend. They soon realize it's the same guy, a multi-talented singer-actor-comedian Blake Allen (Robert Downey Jr.). The girls decide to wait for Blake to return from a two week trip to Los Angeles, so they break into his loft. Upon his return, the women confront him with his declared love for them both, throw it back in his face, and listen to his exceedingly feeble explanations while also silently deciding in their own minds what their next steps will be in terms of their own feelings and in the relationship with him they’ve each invested so much of their time and emotion.
    James Toback has manifested Blake with a serious set of neuroses. There’s the mommy situation, a clinging, emotional need for his mother’s love and advice: she’s the first one he calls when he gets home. Secondly, we learn that he’s fed these two totally different women the same exact lines of devotion, of sharing, of caring: obviously a carefully rehearsed set of conditioned responses to them that free him from investing any real emotion or feelings with another person. He actually seems to be playing a human being rather than being one making the character one of the more fascinating ones the movies have offered us in recent years. Yet, the author has stacked the deck uncomfortably in his favor: the girls, outraged as they are, don’t storm out of his place (and for an actor who’s having to take jobs in the Catskills, his loft is beyond lavish: a multi-floor dwelling with a Jacuzzi in the bathroom and rooms of generous dimensions). They don’t really ever make him face his lies and carbon copy manipulations of their emotions and demand an explanation. Instead, he’s allowed to let them have some room to let their fury dissipate and then begins a new series of manipulations that at least one of them becomes a willing victim: ridiculous, insulting, outrageous, disappointing. The women seem far too intelligent to give their hearts to a man who is at his very core a habitual liar.
    Writer-director Toback wrote the script for Robert Downey, Jr., so it’s clear his character was meant to draw the audience’s empathy. Toback lets the actor have his way with several spotlight moments that reek of indulgence: a lengthy singing performance that goes on way too long based on Downey’s only average singing abilities, a surprise suicide moment that is milked for all it’s worth followed by a really irritating mugging monologue in a mirror to himself, and later even a soliloquy from Hamlet. While Downey is gifted (and the character is supposed to be an all-around entertainer), the two ladies of the piece get shafted, especially since Graham’s intelligent, charming Carla and Wagner’s quirky, street-smart Lou are characters that are equally interesting people but because they aren’t developed well make the decisions they ultimately arrive at (especially one of them) daunting and unthinkable. Toback’s erratic script also doesn’t earn a last minute scene that shamefully milks the emotions the author wants for the characters without proper dramatic construction. It’s further proof that the script, dashed off in just a few days and filmed in less than two weeks, needed a serious rewrite, especially for its second half.
    The actors, particularly Heather Graham, do themselves proud with the material they’re handed. Graham is luminous throughout, even in moments where her obvious hurt and anger bring a genuine darkness to her usually sunny presence. Robert Downey, Jr. certainly comes through with the emotions he’s given to play though his charms, while often omnipresent in other movies, are not up to the task here. Natasha Gregson Wagner begins the film with a rather brittle and awkward discomfort (she does have to speak nonstop, so it was a daunting challenge that she struggles with) though later on the character’s intrinsic intelligence comes to the fore and impresses.
    Video Quality
    The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Close-ups show some excellent detail with very good flesh tones, but medium and long shots are indistinct for a high definition encode and disappoint somewhat. There are no compression artifacts in the transfer, but overall the look is only slightly above average and nothing more. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
    Audio Quality
    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix makes use of its surround soundfield only with the music emanating from a CD player or the piano, and on one occasion, sound levels have not been adjusted properly and dialogue gets drowned out by overloud music. Otherwise, it’s a very quiet soundtrack suggesting the film’s small budget.
    Special Features
    The Blu-ray disc offers both the R-rated and NC-17 rated versions of the film. The NC-17 version is a little over a minute longer, more than likely additional footage uncut from the lengthy sex scene between Downey and Graham. The NC-17 version is the one used for the purposes of this review.
    The audio commentary (available on the R-rated verion only) features writer-director James Toback and stars Robert Downey, Jr. and Natasha Gregson Wagner. It’s not an especially interesting conversation, and most of the information about the making of the film is better presented in another bonus entry.
    “A Conversation with James Toback” finds the director talking about the origins for writing the script, his ideas for casting, and his impressions on the work done by his talented cast leading up to its premiere at the Telluride Film Festival and his hopes that Downey would receive an Oscar nomination for his performance (he didn’t). It runs 20 ¾ minutes and is in 1080i.
    The film’s theatrical trailer looking in fairly poor shape runs 2 ½ minutes in 480i.
    In Conclusion
    2.5/5 (not an average)
    Two Girls and a Guy really doesn’t develop its sensational set-up well even though the film does feature some wonderful acting, and the Blu-ray incarnation of the movie is only slightly above average. Fans of the stars might try a rental as the three leads all do some good work here.
    Matt Hough
    Charlotte, NC

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