Julia Stiles reportedly spends most of her time these days in school at Columbia. So you’d think that when she does decide to make a movie, she’d be careful about what she picks. You’d think.
Given that Stiles has had recent experience with a tepid romantic comedy — the one she made with Mr. Sarah Michelle Gellar, Down to You — it’s hard to imagine why she signed on for A Guy Thing. Maybe it’s that the script borrows heavily from Meet the Parents (by one of Guy Thing‘s credited writers, Greg Glienna, along with three others), wherein a hapless and anxiously offbeat groom-to-be endures wearing physical and emotional abuses in order to keep secrets from his fiancée and her parents.
In this case, the wannabe groom is Paul (Jason Lee), and the bride-to-be is Karen (super good sport Selma Blair). He’s from the tacky class, with big-hearted mom (Julie Hagerty) and John Wayne-loving stepdad, Buck (David Bocehner). They love their boy, and gee whiz, just can’t get over that he’s marrying the ultra tasteful Karen: she buys Paul’s clothes for him, neat button down shirts and expensive shiny shoes. As you might expect — if you’ve seen any newlywed/wedding comedy recently — her more affluent background means that her sniffy folks, Ken and Sandra (James Brolin and Diana Scarwid), are less than thrilled about her choice. Perhaps they’re worried that he doesn’t have a job that A Guy Thing bothers to mention.
A movie of this sort — whatever sort that might be — depends on a relentless illogic: all the action follows from a first, silly and highly reversible step. Paul takes this first step in the first scene, at his bachelor party. Immediately, Paul seems awkward, not nearly so enthusiastic about the hedonism as his best buddy Jim (Shawn Hatosy). And so, he’s enabled by Jim’s decision to invite a squad of Tiki dancers, among them, the lovely Becky (Julia Stiles). Their eyes lock, and since he’s pretending not to be the bachelor (being too embarrassed by girls who want to sit in his lap), Paul passes for just a regular guy. He buys her a beer, and next thing you know, he’s waking up in his bed with Becky beside him. A phone call from Sandra alerts him that Karen is on her way over. He hurries Becky out the door, and on her way, she lets drop that she’s lost her panties. No surprise: he finds and hides this dainty item, only to have it come back to haunt him later in the film.
Paul’s frenzied running from one lie into another is even less clever than this knotty set up suggests. It turns out that Becky is Karen’s cousin, which means that he encounters her repeatedly at family get-togethers and rehearsal dinners. His initial attempt to avoid her is painful — he spends an entire evening in the bathroom, pretending to have diarrhea, allowing for lots of squirting and groaning. And oh my goodness, when he tries to escape out the bathroom window onto a tree limb, well, the jokes don’t quit.
As Becky is something of a free spirit — she’s not really a Tiki dancer, only trying it out, as she also tries out working as a highway toll-taker, a bartender, and a cd store clerk — Paul must show himself to be the ideal male type, not too wussy and not too aggressive. To make this middling standard clear, A Guy Thing provides characters on the two poles: Paul’s pleasant but rather too precise brother Pete (Thomas Lennon), and Becky’s ex, whom she calls “the psycho.”
Ray (Lochlyn Munro) is a cop with a “steroid rage problem” (to be fair, the film notes this rather visible bit of illogic when Paul asks Becky how she ever connected with him, but she has no answer, save for, she made a bad choice). Whenever you see Ray, he’s brutalizing someone — some guy down at the station who’s stolen a donut, or, most often, Paul, whom he accosts on the sidewalk, while Paul is carrying his groceries. Ray stuffs a cheese puff up his nose, smashes eggs into his head, then pours chocolate milk over him. Paul whimpers, then climbs into the dumpster when he’s told.
Paul is inspired to come to terms with his tendency to acquiescence by Becky. Oddly, he’s most sympathetic when he reminds you of Banky (Lee’s character in Chasing Amy), that is, when he’s puzzling over his sexual desires. Most charmingly (and unexpectedly), Paul is (very vocally) enamored of the male dance instructor, Howard (Jay Brazeau), repeatedly recalling his elegance and grace o the dance floor. These reveries trouble Karen, and must end, of course — he’s destined to do the guy thing, to find the proper girl and marry her.