Three to Tango

"You've made your big gay bed and now you've got to slumber gayly in it."

The cast of the ultra-popular tv show Friends have had a curse placed on them: it seems that none of them can star in a good movie. Picture Perfect anyone? Ed? Kissing a Fool? Their success rate on the silver screen has been abominable. But now, with Matthew Perry’s Three to Tango, if the Friends curse isn’t broken, it’s starting to tear at the seams. This latest attempt is an entertaining, inoffensive, highly likeable (though derivative) production, with all the makings of a box-office and critical success.

After an entertaining titles sequence, we are introduced to Oscar Novak (Perry) and Peter Steinberg (Oliver Platt), two architects who have come to the office of Charles Newman, a rich tycoon who is building a cultural center named after himself. The team of Oscar and Peter seems homely in comparison to the competition: two limitlessly wealthy suits who are willing to go to any lengths, monetary and otherwise, to get this project. After they are told that they have to build a model of their proposal, which would cost at least 150 thousand dollars, Oscar and Peter doubt their chances against the moneybags they are pitted against until a series of unexpected developments changes the rules entirely.

Through a series of misunderstandings, Newman comes to believe that Oscar is gay, when in reality it is Peter who “bats for the other team”. Newman is currently cheating on his wife with Amy, a beautiful, oddly Seinfeld-ish New Yorker (Neve Campbell) and is afraid that a hunky football player might try to make a pass at his mistress. Because he thinks Oscar is gay, he orders him to keep tabs on Amy and report back to him with information on whom she mingles with and how she mingles with them.

Oscar, of course, is not gay and he starts to like Amy, who really does seem like a fine gal, unlike many bitchy female figures in these kinds of movies. She continues to think that he is gay and is kept in the dark about his romantic affection for her. Of course, Oscar has to keep pretending he is gay and not show his crush on Amy for fear of losing the project for himself and his partner in the unfortunate circumstance that Newman finds out that the man who he sent to spy on his girlfriend is courting her.

The situation is complicated further when the newspapers decide to do a story on him, profiling him as a prosperous gay businessman. Now everyone in the world thinks he is gay, leading to indecent proposals from strangers of the incorrent gender. The story also lessens his chances of confessing his love for Amy without publically pronouncing that he is not gay and risk losing his architectural gig.

Three to Tango elicits memories of a similarly delightful comedy, In and Out with Kevin Kline. That film had the same basic premise but was more gay-friendly and was not a romance. Comparisons to In and Out are inevitable, but in fact, they are two completely different films. Which is superior is hard to say, but this one is definitely a match for the 1997 critical darling. It’s a light-hearted, funny movie that, if nothing else, produces consistent chuckles and a few laugh-out-loud moments. Though Three to Tango ultimately fails to emotionally involve us with its characters, it is fast paced and never tedious; making up for thematic inadequacies with sharp wit.

Neve Campbell’s performance is rather generic, though her character is a likeable one; fortunately, Perry and Platt more than make up for her undistinctiveness. Perry still seems to be playing his Chandler character from Friends, but since I happen to love Chandler, I was glad to say hi to the old friend on the big screen. Oscar is a tad less cynical and sarcastic than his veritable counterpart, but for some reason I still thought “Chandler”. That certainly doesn’t mean that Perry isn’t funny in the role; on the contrary, he is a hoot. Platt fares even better. He’s a naturally funny actor, with an uncanny flair for delivering one-liners, and his talents make Three to Tango even more enjoyable. His character doesn’t go very far, but he sure is a good source of guffaw-worthy lines like the one above.

The ending of the film is ordinary and unsatisfying, resorting to painfully obvious cliches in order to squeeze out as happy a conclusion as humanly possible (it’s ironic, too, that the characters actually make fun of movie cliches while conforming to them). It likewise didn’t hurt the movie a great deal because I was never induced to make a great personal investment in the characters and thus wasn’t too disappointed when their story wrapped-up in a traditional romantic comedy fashion. It didn’t take away from the fact that the film was zingy and entertaining; a feather-light delight.

-- Eugene Novikov

Leave a Comment

Screening Log


Ric Roman Waugh, 2013

Score: C

Side Effects

Steven Soderbergh, 2013

Score: C+

10 Years

Jamie Linden, 2012

Score: B-

The Place Beyond the Pines

Derek Cianfrance, 2013

Score: B+

Warm Bodies

Jonathan Levine, 2013

Score: C

Beautiful Creatures

Richard LaGravanese, 2013

Score: B-

The Window

Ted Tetzlaff, 1949

Score: B+

The Chase

Arthur Ripley, 1946

Score: B

Street of Chance

Jack Hively, 1942

Score: C

The Taste of Money

Im Sang-Soo, 2013

Score: C+

View All Entries »