For some reason when I picked up this movie for 99c on ebay, I assumed it would be one of those sexually-charged, ménage-à-trois, gender-bender flicks that populated the late 90s like "Chasing Amy" or even Neve Campbell's own "Wild Things". I didn't watch it for that reason, I watched it because it was 99c.
Much to my surprise and delight, "Three to Tango" is a charming, family-friendly comedy that deals with sexual roles tastefully, much like Francis Weber's classic "La Cage aux Folles" (1978) remade in English as the equally classic "Birdcage" (1996). Or if you really want to get back to the roots of the mistaken-sexual-identity sex comedy, Willilam Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" (1602).
It's best to know nothing about the plot, that way the twists and turns are more of a hilarious surprise. But yes, the story centers around a classic case of mistaken sexual identity, and from there the hijinks ensue.
What's exceptional about this movie is that it does a great job of reversing roles, not just for the individual characters but for society as a whole. A lot like a surreal Franz Kafka story (such as "Metamorphosis" where the main character wakes up to learn that he is a giant cockroach), "Three to Tango" puts the main character into a different identity, forcing us to see the world through a different perspective. And much like Kafka's story, the comedy lies in the absurdity of people's reactions, even though nothing has changed except for their perception of the main character.
Yeah that's a lot of heady gobbledygook, so let's just talk about the movie already. The overall vibe is a great throwback to those classic & classy Blake Edwards comedies like "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961) or even the Pink Panther flicks. What I mean is that this story is very prim & proper (no crass potty humor or cheap shots) and yet it's not afraid to sink to few good slapstick moments, such as a couples barf scene that's both hilarious and oddly romantic. There are also 1 or 2 totally surreal moments (again much like in a Blake Edwards flick) such as Matthew Perry panicking and running through the streets of Chicago only to run into a flock of... what's the cliché, pigeons? Haha, not in this case, but I'll let you see it for yourself. It's a quick one so pay attention.
Also like in a Blake Edwards flick the music is AWESOME. Some very cool old jazz, swing and big band numbers are peppered throughout, in a way that really punctuates the comedy (similar to the great soundtrack of "When Harry Met Sally").
Let's talk briefly about the acting. Pay close attention to some brilliant non-verbal acting on the part of each character. I'm talking about their complex reactions without any script. As the story un-twists, each main character has a moment of realization, and I felt they all pulled it off very well. Just by looking at their expressions change, you know exactly what they are thinking and how the wheels in their minds are spinning. Applause for Neve Campbell, Matthew Perry and Dylan McDermott (and director Damon Santostefano) for giving us these powerful yet subtle performances that aren't necessarily as thunderous as George C. Scott's monologue in "Patton", but they convey just as much information and emotion to an audience that's paying attention.
The script itself is pretty well written, not really full of zingers but very natural and believable. Of course with it being Matthew Perry from Friends fame, a lot of his delivery is in that deadpan sarcastic "Chandler" vein with Neve Campbell being the perfect spunky counterpart. Also, Oliver Platt and half a dozen other minor characters also did a great job.
Definitely catch this movie if you get the chance, whether or not you find it for 99c on eBay, it's worth your time.