Threesome

Romantic triangles have been the essence of comedies and dramas for centuries, both in theater and film. But more than any other culture, it's the French who have perfected the concept of mnage a trois (literally threesome). You may recall Francois Truffaut's l961 Jules et Jim (starring Jeanne Moreau), which still is the undisputed classic of its genre.

Hollywood has also used this narrative strategy to great effect in romantic comedies, but it has always been two men in love with the same girl, or rather a beautiful girl who had to choose between two men. Most recently, we saw it in Reality Bites, a romantic drama that voiced the angst of Generation X.

Showing signs of flexibility, and adapting to new social norms and new social arrangements, Hollywood has tried other formats. Last year, there was New Line's Three of Hearts, an overdressed comedy which offered a twist: Its triangle consisted of a male escort (William Baldwin) and a lesbian nurse (Kelly Lynch) enamored of a seemingly bisexual woman (Sherilyn Fenn).

And now comes Threesome, a charming and sexy, but also glossy and superficial picture. Set at a UCLA dormitory, it revolves around Alex (Lara Flynn Boyle), a young beautiful woman, who because of her male-sounding name is assigned a room in an apartment shared by a handsome though not too bright Stuart (Stephen Baldwin) and Eddy (Josh Charles), an attractive man who is also cerebral and well-read.

Their physical proximity soon leads to arguments, fights, and eventually sexual affairs. There are of course complications: Alex is attracted to Eddy, but Eddy is infatuated with Stuart, though he's afraid to acknowledge his sexual orientation.

The script, written by Andrew Fleming (who also directed) is often savvy, decorated with witty one-liners that can help any comedy. I particularly liked the scene in which Eddy, after resisting physical intimacy with Alex, is watching an old French film in a classroom. Suddenly, he gets so inspired and aroused that he rushes back to Alex's room and takes her to bed in a storm. (The French public will love this scene).

But as is often the case with such comedies, the situations are conveniently contrived and the setting smacks of gloss and cuteness. Fleming offers a rather simple, cursory look at the sexual yearnings and confusions of the twentysomething. And ultimately, all three characters emerge as types rather than fully fleshed individuals.

Fleming acquits himself better as director than writer. He keeps things moving fast so that all the audience takes in is the whirring speed, not what's happening; there is no time to see the schematic contrivances while you watch the film.

Threesome's major surprise is the performance of Lara Flynn Boyle. After making half a dozen films, including the dismal thriller The Temp, Flynn Boyle finally demonstrates some talent, energy and spunk. I wish her character's name were not Alex, which seems to be Hollywood's most common name for liberated woman; Alex was also the name of Glenn Close's character in Fatal Attraction.

Stephen Baldwin is not as handsome as his elder brothers Alec and Billy, but his sexy looks are perfect for the fun-loving, party boy he plays. The most challenging role, however, is carried out by John Charles as Eddy, the repressed boy who's afraid to admit his homosexuality to himself, let alone others. Charles embodies Eddy's uncertainties very believably and charmingly.

Threesome shrewdly avoids the mistake of Three of Hearts, in which the youngsters didn't belong together–in any recoupling–but the movie still insisted on a happy ending. And while Threesome is more Hollywood-like and not as honest as Reality Bites, I still recommend that you see this comedy, which may prove to be the date movie of the year.