Movies are no stranger to love triangles — “Twilight,” “The Princess Bride” and “Pretty in Pink” all heavily showcased the metaphorical polygon. “Three to Tango,” 1999’s spicy Australian-American romcom, joins the ranks of movies that rely on the problems of having three people in a relationship.
The triangle can be a gorgeously balanced shape — three equal angles and three equal sides all connected at clean points. But rarely does a love triangle ever emulate the stability of an equilateral triangle. More often than not, it resembles an isosceles triangle with two longer sides gripping for dear life on the shorter, conflicted member of the group, sometimes even morphing into that dreaded scalene triangle that seemingly follows zero rules of logic.
But there is some semblance of thought behind a love triangle or, at the very least, an element of predictability. “Three to Tango” is no different. Characters end up heartbroken and, in true rom-com fashion, pouring their heart out to the other in front of a giant crowd at some fancy gala in a big city.
Matthew Perry (“Fools Rush In”) plays Oscar Novak, essentially a Chandler Bing who lives in Chicago whose biggest worry is the fact that he’s in love with his boss’s mistress who also happens to think he’s gay. Like I said, love triangles are messy.
Amy (Neve Campbell, “Skyscraper”) and Oscar have the kind of meet-cute we all want — Oscar, always the hero, dramatically saves Amy’s artwork and their first encounter is a tense moment in which everyone around them falls away. It was magical. The only cloud over the situation and the real sticking point of the movie is that Oscar’s boss also happens to be Amy’s protective (Domineering? Possessive?) boyfriend, Charles (Dylan McDermott, “Perks of Being a Wallflower”). Eventually, the relationships evolve into the classic love triangle tropes: Oscar is seen as a “close” friend and Charles is the enticing rich-boy. Amy is stuck in the middle.
Part of the reason love triangles work so well is that drama is inherent — the minute someone feels even a smidge of jealousy or a character realizes their feelings, all hell breaks loose. As Charles becomes suspicious of Amy and Oscar’s relationship, the only saving grace is the fact that Charles is convinced Oscar is gay. As Oscar pines away for Amy, the movie’s audience wishes for more of Oscar’s work partner, the man who is actually gay and with better jokes to boot. And, honestly, for how much I wanted to hate Charles, Dylan McDermott is a gorgeous human being with a smirk to die for. Forget Matthew Perry and a bumbling Oscar — give me a Dylan McDermott who doesn’t know he looks like an actual Greek god.
Though “Three to Tango” has an interesting premise, the actual plot fails to age well. The notion that Oscar and his work partner are dating hangs in the air with no one daring to touch them. Characters broach the subject unable to even say the word — through several uncomfortable moments in which secretaries and competing coworkers meet eyes and say the pair are — you know — demonstrate the uneasy attitude towards the LGBTQ+ community that was the norm in the 1990s.
Eventually, the movie wraps up in the expected fashion: Oscar and Amy get together after a teary reunion in a diner and it eventually comes out that for all his confident posturing with Amy, Charles is, surprisingly, a sub in the bedroom. It was the kind of funny irony that the movie lacked throughout.
“Three to Tango” didn’t add anything new to the concept of love triangles or romantic comedies. There were no insights, no vampires and an air of homophobia that’s present in too many late ’90s/early ’00s movies. And yet, it’s still a charming romantic comedy that, even if you don’t love it, is easily enjoyed ironically.