Three of Hearts (1993): Yorek Bogayevicz’s Romantic Comedy, Starring Sherilyn Fenn and Kelly Lynch

Sundance Film Festival, Jan. 30, 1993–Yorek Bogayevicz’s new romantic comedy, Three of Hearts, which received its world premiere at Sundance as a work-in-progress, is shallow, contrived, and less than credible.

However, nicely exploiting New York’s Downtown world, it is a commercially slick and appealing film, whose acting and technical achievements might help New Line generate moderate success with the twenty-something dating crowd.

In most American comedies, menage a trois involves two men in love with the same woman. Three of Hearts offers a twist: Its triangle consists of a male escort and a lesbian nurse enamored of a seemingly bisexual woman.

The film gets off to a good start, when Ellen (Sherilyn Fenn) dumps her g.f. Connie (Kelly Lynch) in Washington Square Park, claiming she needs space and time to reassess their relationship. The heartbroken Lynch, who intended to officially come out at her sister’s wedding by bringing Ellen, hires Joe (Billy Baldwin), a handsome hustler, to accompany her.

Before long–with the help of a silly suspense subplot–Baldwin moves into Lynch’s apartment and a new friendship is formed. To win Fenn back, they hatch a nasty scheme that will use Baldwin’s professional charm to seduce Fenn, then dump her so that she will rush back to Lynch’s arms.

There is no need to go into further detail, as the predictable plot mixes elements from other popular movies. Reversing the characters from Pretty Woman (with Baldwin playing the Julia Roberts role), the story also borrows from American Gigolo, specifically in its depiction of a sleazy hustler and his moral redemption.

For viewers willing to suspend disbelief, this aspiring screwball is likable and well-made too. Scripters Adam Greenman and Phillip Epstein competently outline a friendship between two unlikely characters that could only blossom in a city like New York. The most charming scenes are between Baldwin and Lynch, who gradually disregard their gender and become comrades-in- arms. They exchange info about how to seduce women–both use the motto: “Any woman, any time, any place. Guaranteed. ”

Meant to be a hip, relevant comedy about alternative lifestyles, Three of Hearts makes every effort not to offend anyone, though at a price. The characters are not stereotypical, but they are superficial. Fearing to alienate lesbian viewers, the scripters are vague about Fenn’s sexual identity–is she a lesbian who fell out of love, a bisexual, or just sexually confused Another problem is that each of the characters is likable, but they don’t belong together–in any recoupling. In a more coherent comedy, they would all go their own separate ways.

As he demonstrated in Anna, Bogayevicz is a director with sensitivity for texture. In this picture, he handles the comedy and melodrama not as separate moods, but inextricably mixed, with laughter stemming from the most painful and humiliating situations.

Bogayevicz is also good with actors. The handsome Baldwin delivers a knockout performance in what is possibly the film’s richest role. Essaying his first leading man part, this comedy may catapult Baldwin to major stardom, right next to his brother Alec, even before his next pic, Sliver, is released. Kelly Lynch also shines as a droll, slightly obsessive lesbian, who reluctantly has to accept her new singlehood.

Despite good looks and erotic sexuality, Sherilyn Fenn is unconvincing as a creative writing professor. Some of the fault is in the script: it’s hard to believe that a female instructor would go on a date with her student, let alone invite him to her house, shortly after he walked into her class.

Technical credits are good, particularly Andrzei Sekula’s vibrant lensing of noted New York locations: NYU, West Village, South Street Seaport. Early on, there is a dynamic tracking shot of a phone-sex operation, where Baldwin works, with people whispering obscenities into the phone without ever interrupting their other routines.

Aspiring to be high-style, sophisticated comedy, Three of Hearts is instead an overdressed breezy comedy with a showy surface but not much depth.