Published April 1, 1998
Two Girls and A Guy, directed by James Toback, stars Heather Graham and Natasha Gregson Wagner as Carla and Lou, two young women who meet at the entrance to an apartment building where both are waiting for someone. They do not know each other. Lou, a bubbly sort, strikes up a conversation and enthuses about her boyfriend, who is an exception to the rule that all men are jerks. In a short time, the man she is describing with such intimate knowledge is recognized by Carla as her boyfriend, who is obviously the same boyfriend. The two girls break into the loft apartment where this man, Blake Allen (Robert Downey, Jr.), lives and wait for him to come home. Meanwhile, they realize that he has given each of them three nights a week with the seventh given over either to a third or, more likely, to his mother, to whom he is obviously very close. They repeat to each other his endearments and rather over-the-top professions of love and fidelity which have been identical to both — including the claim that “the thought of sex with another woman disgusts me.”
When Blake returns, he tries to explain one of his wilder protestations of love as “a figure of speech” and insists that “I never said anything to either one of you that I did not wholeheartedly mean.” That, says Lou, makes it worse, and she abuses him in colorful terms, to which he can only reply that “I think that’s really abusive.” But all his attempts at manipulation, including a comically staged suicide, fail. He falls back on his second line of defense, which is that he is an actor, and actors have to lie. He asks the two women to name an actor who doesn’t lie. Denzel Washington, says Lou. She can tell just by looking at him that he is a straight shooter who doesn’t lie. Then Blake lies and pretends to know him personally. “As an actor, I think I’m granted a little leeway,” about lying, he says.
This doesn’t work either. “You don’t know how to be a person, a clear simple person,” they tell him. So finally, the three of them get down to some attempted honesty. The girls confront him with questions about how many other women he has had in the last 10 months, since he has known both of them. At first he says five, then seven then “fewer than ten.” The evidence for his perfidy seems redundant. But then he turns the tables and asks them how many times they have been with other partners in the past ten months. Carla confesses to having had four other men — five if you count Vittorio twice. She has just gone out to call Vittorio. Is she telling the truth, or just doing a tit for tat? Blake thinks she is lying because otherwise she could not have been so indignant with him for infidelity — but then he believes her and becomes indignant with her.
Then Lou confesses to infidelity with three women. This proves a prelude to Lou’s proposal to Carla that the three of them form a triple, instead of a couple, since she clearly fancies both. Carla does not reply. Lou leaves, giving Carla a note of her address. While all this discussion is going on Blake keeps interrupting the proceedings to talk on the phone, seemingly over-solicitously, to his mother and her doctor. At this point he says he has to go out because he is sure something is not right with her, and the doctor refuses to admit her to the hospital. He must arrange it himself. He tells Carla to stay in his apartment and wait for him until he gets back. Does she? Watch and see.
The idea here is a familiar and a cynical one: that when it comes to sex pretty much everybody behaves badly. “Maybe we’re just not capable of monogamy,” says intellectual Carla, “and to say ‘no’ is like a self-violation.” Fidelity is always an illusion. Blake’s theme song is “You Don’t Know Me” by Jackie Wilson. It is a song about secret love, one which the singer cannot reveal because of shyness or chivalry. Here, however, it is used ironically of a man (and women) living a double life. Not only do you not know me, you don’t know anyone — and what you don’t know is inevitably a sexual history of self-indulgence. “Language is always lies,” says Blake; “that’s why I prefer the piano.” But if language is always lies, why should we believe him? If we don’t know anyone, how do we know that fidelity is impossible? And if there is such a thing as a faithful lover, what is it about that person we do not know? Ultimately, what we have here is just another of Tinseltown’s excuses — and how many of them there are! — for bad behavior.