Published on June 13th, 2003 | by Ed Colley0
A Guy Thing
Cast: Jason Lee, Julia Stiles, Selma Blair, James Brolin, Shawn Hatosy
The path of romantic comedy cinema is strewn with the decomposing bodies of films that have died an early, painful death. Few genres produce as many stinkers as the romcom, and for every ornamental urn (‘When Harry Met Sally’) there are twice as many rotting corpses (‘The Wedding Planner, ‘Serving Sara’), whose lingering odour indefinitely discourages the watching of films which follow the comic twists and turns of romantic encounters. As such, a certain amount of trepidation is understandable when approaching ‘A Guy Thing’, the new romcom starring Jason Lee, Julia Stiles and Selma Blair. For, given past precedence, although ‘A Guy Thing’ might be the cinematic equivalent of a cheering warm glow in the middle of your tummy, it is equally likely that it could make you want to chew through your own face in desperation at its awfulness.
In ‘A Guy Thing’, Jason Lee plays Paul, a straight-laced, Seattle-based fellow who is about to marry his fiancée Karen (Selma Blair) and settle down to an unchallenging life of middle-class domesticity. We first meet Paul at his bachelor party, where he professes no desire to engage in any of the normal bachelor party type activities his (surprisingly few) buddies encourage, in case he’s a bit naughty and gets into hot bother with his soon to be trouble and strife. Of course, the next thing Paul knows, it’s the morning after the night before, he’s in bed with a naked hula dancer, and his mother-in-law phones to inform him that Karen is on her way over. Oh, and the hula dancer is Karen’s cousin Becky (Julia Stiles). Doh!
From this small acorn of potential trouble grows a mighty oak of frenetic misfortune, as Paul scrabbles from misadventure to misadventure, trying to cover up what he’s done whilst keeping up the appearance of being a dutiful, family-oriented good guy, who’s super-excited about his forthcoming nuptials. His efforts to ensure Karen remains none the wiser about any potential wrong-doing on his part ironically forces Paul closer and closer to the fun-loving Becky, forcing him to question whether he really wants the life that seems to have been mapped out for him.
The first script of ‘A Guy Thing’ was written by Greg Glienna, scribe of the smash-hit ‘Meet the Parents’. Glienna’s style, as illustrated by the De Niro/Stiller comedy, is evident throughout ‘A Guy Thing’, as Paul goes to ever-increasingly demented lengths to cover his guilty tracks, often within the context of a family gathering, just as Ben Stiller found himself desperately painting a cat in ‘Parents’. Some of Paul’s moments of madness are quite a hoot – such as desperately trying (and failing) to discreetly scratch his crabs-ravaged privates with a board pointer as he gives a short-lived presentation to his boss (who also happens to be his prospective father in law), or trying to explain to his fiancée why there is a pair of soiled ladies knickers in his toilet cistern.
Unfortunately, Glienna’s original script has been ‘sharpened’ by a bunch of other scriptwriters, which not only leads to a slightly disjointed ‘this is my bit, this is your bit’ feel to the film, but which also explains the presence of tired gags that occasionally creep in from time to time, such as Paul quietly asking for crabs cream in a pharmacists and then having the pharmacist checking said embarrassing item in a very loud voice. ‘A Guy Thing’ also plays to rather tired Hollywood stereotyping, where blondes are always kooky and fun-loving, brunettes are always a bit too dull and serious, and slightly geeky guys will nonetheless get the girl of their dreams without upsetting too many people.
Even with too many cooks spoiling the broth, ‘A Guy Thing’ still manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of hackneyed romantic comedy thanks to its direction and strength of its cast. All three leads put in performances that, although at first glance seem quite pedestrian, are in fact enjoyable in their low-key subtlety. Lee makes for a rather different romantic male lead and even if he is not totally convincing as the straight-laced, slightly repressed Paul, he does bring moments of lovely comic timing to his role, particularly when he has to come up with ridiculous porkies in order to cover his tracks. Stiles is perhaps the weakest of the three leads, but should be congratulated for doing anything at all with such a lazy, underdeveloped part (Becky can’t hold down a job for more than two days but she can speak Chinese – how lovably kooky is that!). The highlight of the cast is undoubtedly Selma Blair, who, exactly as she does in ‘Cruel Intentions’, manages to look like she can’t act whilst simultaneously providing the audience with some delightful characterisation, making great use of her expressive face and little vocal squeaks.
‘A Guy Thing’ is also more interesting than a run-of-the-mill romcom thanks to its style. From the opening scenes, the film’s director, Chris Koch, as well as eliciting fine performances from his cast, creates a far less bright and bouncy atmosphere than expected. Set in Seattle (although filmed mainly in Canada), not only is it often raining in ‘A Guy Thing’, but also many of the interior and exterior shots are quite dark and, although obviously not depressing as such, are a far cry from the sunny-side-up world usually found in romantic comedies. This style matches the film’s darkish humour and enhances the fact that Paul does not make his difficult decision – should he take a chance on a new life with Becky at the risk of really hurting Karen – in a flip, devil-may-care manner. Additionally, it is interesting that a film with a title such as ‘A Guy Thing’ would have quite such little connection to ‘guys’ as it does. Bar his brother, his good friend Jim (Shawn Hatosy) and the miraculous corroboration of one his many ridiculous stories from a shop-store clerk, Paul is pretty much on his own when it comes to tough decisions. As such, the film’s title, although canny in its efforts to ensure a wider audience, will be a little confusing to those young men expecting a raucous, beer-driven, buddy-buddy laugh-fest.
All the same, ‘A Guy Thing’ is, arguably, that rare of beasts – a romcom that can be enjoyed by both men and women. And although there is a danger that in trying to please both the boys and the girls it will in fact fully satisfy neither, there is enough smattering of comic set-pieces and fine performances to ensure that ‘A Guy Thing’ ventures along the path of romantic comedy to a safe, if not overly prestigious, destination.