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R: ARCHIVE, S: MOVIES, D: 04/23/1998,

Two Girls and a Guy

Two girls and a guy are in a love affair, except the two girls don't know of each other's existence until they meet at the guy's doorstep while waiting to surprise him on his return from a trip out of town. That's the one-joke premise of Two Girls and a Guy, and it's a theme developed by writer/director James Toback into an inventive, contrapuntal fugue that's more Bachian than the snatch of Vivaldi's Gloria the guy sings as he enters the scene of his serendipitous ambush. He's unemployed singer/actor Blake (Robert Downey Jr. at his most beboppishly angst-driven), and he's got a lot to explain to Carla (a subtly devastating Heather Graham), a reserved but sexually innovative designer, and to Lou (Natasha Gregson Wagner, deceptively ditzy and altogether gutsy), a "not beautiful but cute" actress. To himself, also, as his anguished soliloquies in mirrors, frequent calls to his ailing mother, and obsession with the Jackie Wilson tune "You Don't Know Me" indicate. Meanwhile Toback, an erratic filmmaker with a weakness for smugness and pretension, is note-perfect, weaving this canon of lies, self-deceptions, and desire into a resounding final chord of truth. At the Nickelodeon, the Harvard Square, and the West Newton and in the suburbs.

-- Peter Keough