Friday, July 21, 2017

cinema obscura: david beaird's "it takes two" (1988)

David Beaird's "It Takes Two," from 1988, is an unusually accomplished and knowing little film, at once enchantingly funny and shrewdly observed.

There is an inclination to call this a lost film but, the fact is, this is a movie that was never found in the first place. It was half-heartedly released (by United Artists, then on its last leg) and casually dismissed by critics (that is, those who bothered to see it). No surprise, it never found an audience.

It is very much an independent film but no one grasped that back in '88, largely because of unfortunate timing. "It Takes Two" was ahead of its time by just a few months. In 1989, Steven Soderbergh's "Sex, Lies and Videotape" would become the darling of film festivals and would open the door for small, edgy films dealing with real-life man/woman issues. Which exactly describes "It Takes Two." But it was too late for Beaird's film.

Set on the eve of a wedding, "It Takes Two" deals with what men ostensibly want (hot cars and hotter women, and lots of them) and what women want (love and a security that might be restricting). Men here, represented by the groom-to-be, are painted as dreamers, while women, in the form of his sweetheart and future wife, are seen as realists.

It's the familiar battle of the sexes and, although the film comes with an undeniable '80s feels, it has a sweet, unpretentious touch that's ageless. And, as in most romantic comedies, the man and woman here are each outraged by (and attracted to) an element in the other's character.

The man and the woman here are essentially kids, just barely out of high school. Travis Rogers and Stephi Lawrence have lived in Waxahachie, Texas, all their lives, on their families' respective farms. Travis' family breeds horses and is strictly lower middle-class, while Stephi's dad, "Bull" Lawrence (the name says it all), is admired as the local "manure mogul."

Travis and Stephi are absolutely crazy about each other and, what's more, they were made for each other. But they see matters, life, differently.

Travis has never been to a big city and has never owned anything fine, anything to call his own, and has never been with anyone except Stephi - and he hasn't really been with her. (They're both virgins.) He has dreams of fancy cars and panting blondes, dreams followed by nightmares of Stephi locked inside his queasy stomach - dressed in her wedding gown.

Stephi is spoiled, a bit self-centered and something of a nag, but (thanks to some three-dimensional playing here) you just know how much she caares about Travis and how she only wants to make him happy.

When he announces that he wants to invest most of his hard-earned money in a fancy Tovare, advertised as an American imitation Lamborghini, and that he plans to go to Dallas right before their wedding to buy one, Stephi goes along with him, but only after a few fights.

Their fights are actually a kind of mutual criticism, very realistic, and as most married couples know, they are sometimes the only road to accommodation - torturous, painfully introspective but necessary.

So while Stephi prepares for the big wedding, which is only 46 hours away, Travis goes to Dallas, aptly Oz-like in his eyes, to buy his car. The sales clerk, a blonde named Jonni, is the kind of woman that Travis saw only in his dreams and she takes him for a ride in more ways than one. (It's a sly touch that the autoplex where Jonni works is named Emerald Motors.)

Travis' pursuit of his male fantasy turns into a male nightmare that somehow ends kind of dreamy, thanks to the efforts of writers Richard Christian Matheson (son of Richard Matheson) and Thomas Szollosi.

Back in 1988 when I first saw (and reviewed) "It Takes Two," I felt that I had discovered some remarkable, attractive new talent.

George Newbern and Leslie Hope, the stars, are two accomplished players who should have gone further in the nearly 30 years since "It Takes Two" was first released. Newbern as Travis is a crackerjack leading man, at turns funny and serious and always willing to expose himself to the audience. His Travis is a fine character study of a young man old enough to grow a mustache but young enough to look silly with one.

Leslie Hope (who, back in the day, was soon to be seen in Oliver Stone's "Talk Radio" and with Matt Dillon in "Kansas") is the titanic supporting structure of this film. As Stephi, Hope reads dialogue as if she were having a candid conversation with her friends and has a smile to die for. In the film's big scene, when Stephi thinks Travis has stood her up at the altar, Hope has a monologue that defines her unusually complex character.

Kimberly Foster, who plays Jonni, is sort of a neo-Kim Novak, a striking blonde with a punky edge, a heart of gold (of course) and, most important, a streak of decency. She's excellent. And a special note about the invaluable character actor Barry Corbin who plays the aforementioned Bull and who brings a tangy, lived-in feel to the role. You could say the same about "It Takes Two" - tangy, lived-in and also ... bittersweet.

Oh, and by the way, just prior to its release, "It Takes Two" was titled "My New Car." Neither generic title does the film justice.

Notes in Passing: Five years later, in 1993, George Newbern and Leslie Hope would be teamed again, in the nifty Drew Barrymore faux Hitchcock thriller, "Doppelganger," directed by Avi Nesher. Newbern would become best known for his role as Kimberly Williams' young husband in the "Father of the Bride" twins, while Hope would move from acting to directing.

And the talented David Beaird would direct "Scorchers," a 1991 guilty pleasure starring Faye Dunaway. Highly recommended fun. Beaird hasn't made a film since 2005's "The Civilization of Maxwell Bright," starring Patrick Warburton, Simon Callow, Eric Roberts, Austin Pendelton and Jennifer Tilly. And based on Beaird's filmography, that's one I'd like to see.
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~Leslie Hope and George Newbern in "It Takes Two"
~photography: United Artists 1988 ©


Sheila said...

I vaguely remember this film and recall it being very small and very sweet. I forgot about it completely but would like to see it again.

joe baltake said...

Sheila- You and I may be the only people to remember it. I'm looking forward to seeing it again. -J

VegasBrad said...

Great movie! my buddy Joel showed this to me years ago and I thought it was great, he's always loved 80's Lamborghinis. This was a hard movie to find, when searching on the net all you get is Mary Kate/ Ashley Olsen hits because o f their same named movie and huge popularity. In the end I gave up and justput a wishlist in my Tivo for it and Guess what! within a week it was shown on Showtime Extreme via Dishnetwork at 7am! I found it in my Now Playing list like a present. Being as the olny info on this movie says VHS release, I don't think it was ever on DVD. My Tivo is the Humax DVD-R model so I was able to burn a copy of this womderful movie on DVD from a satellite recording so the picture is great! This is a treasure.

SusieQ said...

It Takes Two was just on ThisTV. Didn't pay close attention and missed the ending. Very eighties. Worth catching.