Three to Tango [1999]

Genre: Comedy, Romance
A charming but problematic romantic comedy, Three to Tango wobbles between sublime farce and ridiculous contrivance in its detailing of the romantic triangle between an architect (Matthew Perry), a rich businessman (Dylan McDermott), and the businessman's mistress (Neve Campbell). What's the catch? Well, after an absurd misunderstanding, McDermott believes Perry to be gay when in actuality it's Perry's architectural partner (Oliver Platt) who is. Thinking Perry is "safe" material, the jealous McDermott enlists him to watch over Campbell so she doesn't flirt with any other guys, the tacit understanding being that if Perry keeps her out of anyone's arms, a lucrative job will be his. Of course, Perry's instantly smitten, and Campbell takes to him immediately. Both are flummoxed when McDermott reveals Perry's orientation, in one of the film's many subtly rich and funny scenes; Campbell's confused but accommodating, and Perry freaks out inside when he understands that if he wants to keep his job and stay out of debt he has to pretend to have no romantic feelings whatsoever for the woman he loves--and be her constant companion and closest friend. When it sticks to farce-screwball mixed with drawing-room comedy, Three to Tango closely resembles Tootsie, in which another man pretended to be something he wasn't in order to keep his job and his proximity to the woman he loves. However, it's the "gay issue"--and that's exactly how it's dealt with, quotation marks and all--that sadly sabotages the film. Whereas in Tootsie Dustin Hoffman's cross-dressing was taken in stride, the issue of Perry's supposed homosexuality is treated as an oppressive burden; it's not only borderline offensive, it badly bungles the film's delicate dynamics, weighing down a feather-light romance with excess baggage. It's too bad, because Perry and Campbell are better than you'd ever have any reason to believe; their courtship is genuinely funny and touching, and after a while you'll find emotional investment in these two ending up together. Despite the film's problems, they manage to pull it over the finish line. --Mark Englehart

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