The biggest reason to stop telling people what films they should love or hate is primarily due to its icky gatekeeping factor, but, secondarily, there’s no telling what people will connect to and when. There are as many people out there whose formative years are defined by songs “Barbie Girl” by Aqua or “I Want You” by Savage Garden, as much as there are by “Let The River Run” by Carly Simon or “Twist and Shout” by The Beatles. The point, as tangential as it may seem, is that the moment we look down on others for what they love or hate is the moment we forget that the things we love are special to us for a reason. For instance, I cannot explain what prompted me to open the copy of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play Cyrano de Bergerac I found in my basement all those years ago, but I’ll never forget how that story made me feel. Because of this, I’m constantly delighted to see other iterations made, each twisting or changing the tale to fit their vision of the universal story of love, loss, and personal acceptance. One such new adaptation is director Scott Coffey’s It Takes Three, written by Logan Burdick and Blair Mastbaum, and starring Jared Gilman (Moonrise Kingdom), David Gridley (The Duff), Aurora Perrineau (Jem and the Holograms), and Mikey Madison (Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood), whose take on Rostand’s tragicomedy applies a modern sensibility mixed with a traditional teenage rom-com, creating an opportunity for significance in someone’s formative moment.
It’s 2018 and it’s nearing prom. The kids are deeply engaged in the ages-old tradition of risking absolute public embarrassment in the hopes of finding the perfect partner with whom they can create their Prom dream. After his attempt goes horribly wrong, Cy Berger (Gilman) is ready to just fall off the face of the Earth, but his best friend Kat Walker (Madison) won’t let him, nor will new girl Roxy (Perrineau), whose artistic styles and progressive philosophies fall right in line with his. But Cy isn’t the only one who’s noticed the new girl. Social media star Chris Newton (Gridley) desperately wants to go out with Roxy, but all of his regular moves get him shut down hard. Recognizing his limitations, Chris asks Cy to use his smarts to help him get Roxy to go out on a date. Reluctant at first, Cy eventually agrees when he realizes that Chris will pay him enough to get the plastic surgery he so desperately wants. What Cy didn’t expect was how pretending to be Chris for Roxy would change him and what that change would make him realize.
Audiences don’t need to be aware of the original Cyrano in order to appreciate It Takes Three as the rom-com teen beats will feel familiar enough. There’s the kid with self-esteem issues, the popular kid, and the one they both desire. In most adaptations, the key characteristic outside of Cyrano’s bravery and intelligence is his elongated nose, something of which he’ll boast publicly about, but, privately, will declare it the reason he cannot profess his love for Roxanne. In Coffey’s adaptation, Cy suffers more from body dysmorphia, believing that his eyes are ill-shapen, his nose bulging, and his mouth ill-formed. There’s a fantastic moment where we watch Cy manipulate a photo of himself into what we thinks he sees and Cy’s actual faces morphs in front of us, the audience, while he struggles to figure out why the photo isn’t changing. There’s truly nothing wrong with Cy outside of what he perceives as shortcomings. The way in which both Gilman conveys this physical discomfort with Cy’s self, as well as the digital effects used to manifest that disconnect between perception and reality will hit hard, especially for those of us who felt like outcasts in our own teenage years. That Cy would be so aesthetically and selfishly motivated is both universal in feeling and in keeping with the original story. Most adaptations (It Takes Three; Roxanne (1987)) have Cyrano’s relationship with Christian as very different than the one in the original story. The two have a much deeper relationship in the original and Cyrano never confesses his feelings so directly. The latter is a bit that almost all of the adaptations continually opt not to follow. The fact that It Takes Three follows the path of other adaptions with just even adjustment empowers the film to shift toward a more modern perspective and away from the expectations of tradition. This change is what results in Cy/Chris’s deception bearing weight and the final moments a bit of earned sweetness.
Burdick and Mastbaum’s script call out the catfishing in the story early and, while this act doesn’t fully protect the narrative, the fact that the characters have *some* awareness of the results of their actions enable the audience to feel for the characters, even somewhat. This is both a strength and a weakness because, as much as cinema history looks kindly on John Hughes, for example, as a whole, there are plenty of cringey moments in his films. The nerds of Weird Science (1985) are willing to trade Lisa to the jocks if it gets them their dream girls, while Sixteen Candles (1984) features a nerd (Anthony Michael Hall’s Ted) seeking out a girl’s underwear as a trophy before making out with an inebriated girl. The *ideas* of these films resonant, absolutely, but their approach is not one we should see to exemplify now. This is tricky with a film like It Takes Three because the narrative is based on a story in which catfishing offers the central conflict among the characters. The difference is, in the novel, Christian dies at war and Roxanne doesn’t learn the truth until right about when Cyrano dies, as well. It’s perfectly tragic and trust is, ultimately, never truly lost. Calling out the awkwardness doesn’t entirely make up for the invasive and disgusting breach of trust that goes on here, but it certainly helps that the performances convey, at least on the part of Gillman’s part, a certain sincerity that makes his choices less disgusting. In a similar vein, while Chris is a teenage boy whose interest in Roxy is purely physical, he never forces himself on her in the way the “heroes” of ‘80s rom-coms might. Yes, he’s a lying, culture-appropriating idiot, but he’s not a scumbag. It’s a weird line, but a line nonetheless. Without Gilman and Gridley offering some sense of humanity amid their characters’ self-doubt, the totality of It Takes Three would be far more cringe-worthy than it would be admirable. It certainly helps that the script screams at the two male characters for their transactional view of relationships while highlighting how the possession of this view comes from their own insecurities. It would be nice if the people that needed that last part the most would recognize it within themselves.
In reviews, it’s always a good idea to examine the ideas presented versus the ones not, but, as an avid fan of the original, I do wish this iteration, as much as it harkens back to the teen rom-coms of old, that it had challenged those notions just a bit more than it does, or maybe even if it tweaked it so that the ending isn’t so neatly bow-tied. The script and performances from Perrineau and Madison make the two central women, Roxy and Kat, fully-formed, with their male counter-parts not yet totally baked. This works beautifully to highlight just how much of a bad idea the Cy/Chris deception is because, even in the age of malleable social media identities, who you are in-person, in the quiet dark, matters far more. I would’ve liked that to have been explored further, offering a more mature, adult exploration of personal and sexual identity in the modern era.
By the credits roll, one thing is for certain: It Takes Three is a sweet film which earns the description by being as honest as it can be while maintaining the spirit of what’s come before. As much an adaptation of Cyrano as it is an homage to teen rom-coms of the ‘80s/’90s, the blending isn’t exactly seamless, but it gets the job done and it’s done fairly well. It helps to have scene-stealers like singer-songwriter Anya Marina who plays the super-hip Principal Hendrix (who would absolutely be fired in a heartbeat by any real administration) or Nicole Sullivan and Lori Alan as Cy’s moms, Laura and Sara Berger, whose positive parental support borders on psychological teenage abuse. Not to mention that both Perrineau and Madison school their co-stars in just about every scene. In totality, It Takes Three may not push the envelope, even when it tries via little visual artistic flourishes, but it’s reliable enough for a good time.
Available on VOD and digital September 3rd, 2021.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.