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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Two Girls and a Guy (Blu-ray)
Two Girls and a Guy (Blu-ray)
Fox // R // November 3, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted November 6, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Carla (Heather Graham) and Lou (Natasha Gregson Wagner) are both leaning against a reasonably nice apartment building on some New York City sidestreet. Not one for waiting quietly so much, a too-giddy Lou passes the time by gabbing to Carla about how wonderful her boyfriend -- a guy she's been palling around with for right at a year now -- is. Carla quietly tolerates all that chatter, only halfway paying attention until it hits her: the boyfriend she's waiting to trot back from the airport is the same guy that Lou's trying to surprise. Blake (Robert Downey, Jr.) had apparently hit it off both of them ten months and change ago, and instead of choosing one or the other, he opted to string them both along. That way, if one of 'em didn't work out, he'd still have a fallback to lean on. The hiccup is that things wound up going unexpectedly well with both of them, and not only do Carla and Lou know about each other now, but they have time to compare notes...cluing in that Blake has been spouting off the same tripe -- a mix of obnoxiously overliterate and hypervulgar bullshit about dick ownership and oceans of cum -- to both of them verbatim.

When Blake does waltz back into his apartment, he has no idea that the two of them have broken in and are lurking off in the shadows. He goes through his routine -- riffing with his agent, doing his best Pavarotti, trying to call up the three most important women in his life -- only to clue in a few minutes later that he was being watched this entire time. Kinda goes without saying that a heated confrontation quickly follows, and the self-absorbed, quick-witted actor immediately finds himself at a loss for words. More than anything, they want an answer -- why? -- and Blake fumbles for something to say. Oh, it's because he's an actor...he's a professional liar, after all. No, wait, it's their fault he cheated. As they try to wade through Blake's sea of bullshit, the three of them wind up psychoanalyzing one another, waxing philosophical about monogomy, the gulf between love and lust, and whether or not honesty amounts to much in a relationship. Underneath it all, there's still a certain level of attraction, though. Carla and Lou
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had invested ten months each into this prick, and as repulsed as they are by what he's done, there's a certain sense that they each want to be the one to win. Two Girls and a Guy isn't all overintellectualized versions of the letter columns in "Cosmo", though, complete with an Oedipal bent, a fake gunshot, an impromptu performance of an excerpt from Hamlet, somehow managing to compare an actor like Denzel Washington to a Supreme Court justice, and the revelations of his girlfriends' own sticky secrets.

Two Girls and a Guy started life as a screenplay, but it wouldn't be all that much of a leap to buy that it had been adapted from the stage. Once it steps foot inside Blake's apartment a couple minutes in, the camera never swoops back outside. The film zips around several different rooms, sure, but virtually every last minute of it is set in Blake's loft. After the setup's out of the way, there are only three characters on-screen, and it's eighty minutes of conversations swirling entirely around sex and relationships. Part of me's convinced that I would've preferred it as a play, really. There's something sort of detached and artificial about Two Girls and a Guy as a film, and the immediacy of a live performance may have glossed over some of those weaker stretches. On the other hand, a play would keep the audience at a distance from the actors, and the facial gestures and more subtle body language throughout the film convey as much as the reams of dialogue. There's some terrific camerawork as well; this may not be a movie with any sort of grand, sweeping scope, but Toback and cinematographer Barry Markowitz ensure that Two Girls and a Guy has as a
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cinematic a look as it realistically can.

Two Girls and a Guy benefits most from an exceptional lead performance by Robert Downey, Jr. It's a showcase for just how inhumanly talented he is, and throughout the film, Blake sings, dances, and, more than anything, acts. There's that rendition of a scene from Hamlet, of course, but the crux of the film is the façade that Blake hides behind. He's an actor by trade, sure, but his entire life is a performance. The only scenes in which that artifice is stripped away come when Blake is talking to or talking about his mother. Aside from himself, of course, she's the only person this narcissist seems to truly care about. Downey deftly juggles both the humor and the tragedy of this sort of character...his smirking charm and the painful realization that he essentially has nothing in this world to latch onto. There's something intriguing about seeing that hyperconfident swagger fade away into fumbling incoherence after being confronted, but the most extraordinary moments in the film come when Blake isn't on the defensive or putting on a show...when he's alone or at least thinks he is. Blake's goofy, playful return to his loft -- where he belts out an over-the-top rendition of some sort of Italian operetta, snarks at his agent, and pokes around at a piano -- immediately establishes how conceited yet intriguingly magnetic and charming he can be. On the other end of the spectrum, Blake's disgust and revulsion at himself as he stares at his reflection in a bathroom mirror reveals why he cowers behind this character he's so carefully crafted.

Heather Graham and Natasha Gregson Wagner don't make nearly as much of an impression, and I'm sure it doesn't help that their characters are so thinly sketched. Graham isn't overly remarkable but fields the role of Carla well enough...someone who's more reserved and hesitant. Wagner struggles as Lou, though. She's aggressively twee at the outset -- like an 8th grader trying to show off just how cute and spunky-exclamation-point she is -- and not a word out of her mouth winds up sounding particularly convincing. She eventually settles into the part, sort of, but her delivery doesn't improve as much as I'd like.

If it weren't for the fact that this is exactly how James Toback speaks throughout the extras on this disc, I'd shrug the dialogue as a whole off as kind of awkwardly Mametian.


"This is turning out to be a very strange day after starting out rather innocently. Everything is changing so fast. Everything seems to be going from one extreme to another and back again, almost as if love and hate were interchangeable. No, I don't mean interchangeable...I mean inverted."
"They are not protestations; they are outright denials. It's beyond desire. It's beyond choice. It's phallic incapacity. It's an inoperative shaft. I'm telling you: if you were to put a gun to my head and say, 'Fuck her. She's gorgeous. She needs you. It's easy. No one will know', I'd say 'Pull it. Pull the trigger. Empty the chamber into my head.' Because that's where it is with me. It's not even my dick anymore. It's attached to me, yeah, but it belongs to you."

Toback mentions in the disc's extras just how open to improvisation he was throughout the shoot, but the dialogue too frequently sounds stilted and overly constructed...so artificial that I never had a chance to get lost in the characters or their conversations. There's something kind of shallow about it all too. Two Girls and a Guy is more interested in dancing around the questions
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-- love versus desire, sexual hypocrisy, whether or not we're wired to be monogomous -- than delving into any of the answers. By the end, the message seems to be somewhere in the neighborhood of "um, just do what you want, I guess" since we're all kind of exploitative assholes out for ourselves anyway, and even complete pricks can be emotionally wounded. I dunno. Whatever appeal Two Girls and a Guy has, it's in the journey to get there rather than the destination. The film really doesn't seem certain how to end, exactly, and what Toback opted for doesn't really resolve the conflicts he sets up. More of a coda than a traditional ending, Downey's acting is at its most exceptional here: as revealing as Two Girls and a Guy sets out to be, this is by far its most intimate sequence, and there's no trace of sexuality in it at all.

I've watched Two Girls and a Guy several times since the movie first found its way to DVD, and I've still never shorn up an overall opinion. I'm not even sure if I'd say that I like it or not. There are certainly some scattered moments that are piercingly insightful, emotionally resonant, and wickedly funny, but there aren't enough of them, and even a lean runtime that clocks in under 80 minutes minus credits seems longer than it ought to be. Much like Blake himself, there's also a certain pretentiousness and lack of depth that wind up dragging it all down. On the other hand, it's a movie that'll unavoidably provoke some discussion, at least, and Two Girls and a Guy is worth a rental if for no other reason than to marvel at a truly extraordinary performance by Robert Downey, Jr. This Blu-ray disc is a very worthwhile upgrade for anyone looking to replace that musty DVD release from back in 2001; for first-time viewers, though, I'd say Rent It.

Two Girls and a Guy had a semi-legendary struggle with the MPAA to score an R rating, having been submitted and resubmitted over and over again. Both of its DVD releases have been of that trimmed-down theatrical release, and it's a very welcomed surprise that this Blu-ray disc includes both versions. The differences between the two are limited to one scene with masturbation and simulated oral sex. It's not graphic -- there's no nudity at all -- and it's intense, frenzied, and primal rather than the usual sort of softly-lit eroticism. I guess it's that ferocity that rattled the censors. For anyone who's wondering, the NC-17 version of the scene runs 80 seconds longer than the theatrical cut.


Video
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I was floored by just how terrific Two Girls and a Guy looks at the outset. The movie opens outside of Blake's apartment building, and the image throughout those first few minutes is crisp and brimming with detail. There's such a strong sense of depth and dimensionality that it certainly doesn't seem as if this was a film that rang in its tenth anniversary a couple years back, and its warm, golden tint is also reproduced wonderfully on Blu-ray.

That sort of enthusiasm winds up being dialed down once Two Girls and a Guy lugs its cameras inside, and that's where they stay rooted for the remainder of the film. The interiors are still nicely defined and certainly a worthy step up over the 2001 DVD release, and the texture and detail visible in its closeups are outstanding. The photography is noticeably softer, though, and it doesn't consistently impress in quite that same way it had at first. The gritty texture adds a sense of consistency to the presentation, though, and it's appreciated that its film grain doesn't show any signs of being awkwardly smeared away. This presentation is free of any speckling or wear of note, and I couldn't spot any hiccups in the authoring either. Though it's nothing dazzling, exactly, this is still a strong showing for Two Girls and a Guy on Blu-ray, and its weaker stretches almost certainly date back to the original photography rather than a misstep with this disc.

Two Girls and a Guy arrives on Blu-ray on a single-layer platter, and the 1.85:1 video has been encoded with AVC. Though this Blu-ray disc does include both cuts of the film, the differences between them are minor -- limited to one scene, really -- and Fox has wisely opted to use seamless branching rather than including two separate, feature-length encodes. There's no perceptible difference in quality between the footage from the theatrical release and the NC-17 cut.


Audio
This Blu-ray disc does sport a six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, but it's essentially a stereo mix, with the surround channels dead silent when it's not reinforcing the music. The only moment with any real reverb in Blake's apartment is when he's singing; even effects like a phone ringing off-screen don't manage to score any directionality, and the opening sequence on a New York sidestreet doesn't bother with any ambience either. I'm sure this would have to be a deliberate decision, but the 5.1 remix's complete disinterest in placing anything but music into the rear channels seems a bit odd, even with a framework that doesn't lend itself to flashy split-surrounds or anything like that.

The music is absolutely the highlight of this track, from the way the instrumentation engulfs the room to that subsonic slug in the gut belted out by the blaring dance tracks. This is where the Blu-ray disc sets itself apart the most from anything DVD could hope to hammer out. The recording of the dialogue is uneven, though; some of Natasha Gregson Wagner's dialogue in particular is marred by a flicker of distortion, and other stretches sound distant and hollow. Some moments are so strained, even, that they leave Two Girls and a Guy seeming several years older than it really is. I'm sure it's faithful to the source, but this lossless soundtrack is still fairly rough around the edges.

Two Girls and a Guy also includes Dolby stereo surround tracks in English and Spanish. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH), Spanish, and French.


Extras
The biggest selling point for this Blu-ray disc is that it includes both the R-rated theatrical release as well as James Toback's NC-17 cut. As for the other extras...

  • Audio Commentary: Exclusive
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    to the R-rated cut is the audio commentary from the 2001 DVD release with James Toback, Robert Downey, Jr., and Natasha Gregson Wagner. Toback is by far the dominant presence this time around, with the film's writer/director lobbing out quite a few stories from production while also offering detailed comments about his characters and specific snippets of dialogue. Downey sticks to quick quips more than anything else, and the bubbly Wagner prefers to keep the conversation going by asking questions rather than offering all that much insight herself. There's a pretty solid sense of humor showcased here, though, and the track still manages to cover a lot of meaningful ground while it's at it. Worth a listen.

  • A Conversation with James Toback (21 min.; HD): This Blu-ray disc also features a newly-recorded interview -- in high definition, even -- with Toback. It's basically a linear runthrough of Two Girls and a Guy from the initial germ of an idea all the way through to its enduring success in the years since. Some of Toback's comments are on this side of pretentious, but this is a nicely comprehensive overview anyway: writing the screenplay with Downey expressly in mind, how quickly the project came together from Toback's initial concept, how shots of the two women listening expose as much of their personalities as the moments with them speaking, the improvisational bent he encouraged on the set, and butting heads with the ratings board over the primal sex scene.

  • Trailer (2 min.; SD): Last up is a grainy, standard definition theatrical trailer.

The Final Word
Two Girls and a Guy unspools like a psychoanalytical stage play that's managed to carve its way onto a feature film without having to change much of anything. I'm kind of intrigued by the concept -- it's something different, at least -- and it's near-impossible not to be floored by Robert Downey, Jr.'s incendiary performance here. The simplicity of the story's kind of the point, but it still seems too thin to sustain even an eightysomething minute film, and some of the leaden dialogue and the artificial spunkiness of Natasha Gregson Wagner wind up grating as well. This is a movie I've watched several times over the years, and I've still never gotten around to forming a firm opinion about it one way or the other. For whatever it's worth, though, it's a thrill to see that this disc includes both the theatrical cut and the original NC-17 version, and Two Girls and a Guy looks and sounds about as great on Blu-ray as it likely ever will. My reaction is much too mixed to recommend it outright, but Two Girls and a Guy is still at least worth considering as a rental, and the inclusion of the largely unseen NC-17 version should make this disc an essential purchase for longtime fans of the film. Rent It.
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