Three to Tango (1999)

by Anne Daugherty



Movies are such a vital part of our culture. We go to the cinema, we rent videos, and even basic cable provides one or two movies at any given point in every day. So it’s getting downright crowded out there in movie land, and therefore harder and harder to come up with something original. Three to Tango doesn’t even try. Instead it employs the old traditional boy meets girl plot and goes little from there. In this case the boy is Oscar Novak, played by Matthew Perry, who proves yet again that what we see in Friends is all he has to offer. Chandler’s goofy slapstick and athletic eyebrows are obviously the only tricks in Perry’s book, so they get used again and again. Still, he is cute, and since Three to Tango relies so heavily on eye candy, you could do worse. At least Perry doesn’t pretend to be a great actor; he’s a pretty face and that’s enough.

The object of Oscar’s affection is Amy (Neve Campbell). She’s an artist; in fact, she’s a glass blower, and a pretty good one. Oscar and Amy meet via one of many serious plot holes that damage the smooth voyage of this film. As young, attractive, and successful as Amy is, she’s involved with Chicago’s latest multi-millionaire, Charles Newman (played most unconvincingly by Dylan McDermott). When I say played unconvincingly, I really think that poor McDermott is a sacrificial lamb in this movie. His role is dumb dumb dumb, which leaves no room for maneuvering. Paul Newman couldn’t make this role happen, but then again, Paul Newman would have the brains not to take it in the first place.

cover art

Three to Tango

Director: Damon Santostefano
Cast: Matthew Perry, Neve Campbell, Dylan McDermott

(Warner Bros.)

Anyway, Amy is Charles’ mistress. Charles needs some architects to remodel a building, and hires Oscar and his partner, Peter (Oliver Platt), for the job. Thinking Oscar is gay, Charles asks him to spy on Amy, to make sure she’s not seeing other men. Amy and Oscar fall in love, but they hide their feelings and fight repeatedly, though you know that the truth will inevitably come out in a huge arena where boy will risk all in front of millions to tell his girl the truth. And in the meantime, said boy will of course manage to sermonize on the state of the world, as if he knows more about living a lie in his 5 minutes of gayness than others do in a lifetime of the reverse. It’s almost as annoying as the scene in Tootsie where Dustin Hoffman tells women what it means to be female. Hey, thanks, Dustin, boy, we sure didn’t know that until you told us!!!

While Three to Tango is all very entertaining in its inane way, there’s a certain discomfort to the film that is hard to shake. The movie hangs on the premise that Oscar is gay when he really isn’t. A premise that is established in a stupid way, and upheld with even less plausibility. In fact, there are many moments when even the most politically incorrect viewers would have to feel uncomfortable with the tasteless and cheap shots taken at the gay community. For all that, it’s just a romantic comedy after all, meant to numb the senses and allowing the audience to indulge itself in identifying as hero or heroine of a life that is far removed from reality. And it does have a rather cool swing score that keeps the toes tapping.


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