This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Sometimes the story behind a movie can bring an angle to what's on the screen. Consider “Two Girls and a Guy,” written and directed by James Toback, and starring Robert Downey Jr. The story involves a two-timing actor who returns to his Manhattan apartment to be confronted by both of his girlfriends, who've just found out about each other.
Here's the background: * Toback and Downey worked together before, in “The Pick-Up Artist” (1987), where Downey played a compulsive womanizer who bounded through the streets of New York, fast-talking pretty girls. He was a cad and a liar, but likable; Pauline Kael wrote that “Downey, whose soul is floppy-eared, gives the movie a fairy-tale sunniness.” * James Toback himself is, or was, a notorious pickup artist. How notorious? The late Spy magazine once printed a double fold-out chart of his activity during just one month. With the names of his female targets running down the left-hand side of the page, the magazine used a grid to chronicle his various approaches, and how many of his favorite pickup lines (“I work closely with Warren Beatty”) he used on each woman.
* When Downey was shown on television, being led to jail in handcuffs on drug charges, Toback was watching, and says he sat down immediately to write a screenplay for his old friend. “When I saw him in that orange jail jump suit, I knew he was ready to play this role,” Toback told me at the 1997 Toronto film festival. Of course, perhaps Toback (whose screenplays include “The Gambler” and “Bugsy”) was also ready to write it; the film is confessional and contrite.
* “Two Girls and a Guy” was written in four days and filmed in just 11, mostly inside a single apartment in SoHo. Not long after, Downey went back to court and eventually to jail, only to be released this month.