Review: ‘It Takes Three’ (2021), starring Jared Gilman, Aurora Perrineau, Mikey Madison and David Gridley

September 20, 2021

by Carla Hay

Jared Gilman and Mikey Madison in “It Takes Three” (Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)

“It Takes Three” (2021)

Directed by Scott Coffey

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the romantic comedy “It Takes Three” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: At a high school, a nerd and a conceited jock schoolmate both have crushes on the same girl at school, but the nerd keeps his crush a secret and is recruited by the jock to fabricate a romantic online persona that the jock passes off as his own to woo the girl he wants to date.

Culture Audience: “It Takes Three” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching formulaic and not-very-funny teen romantic comedies.

Aurora Perrineau and David Gridley in “It Takes Three” (Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky)

Predictable, boring and plagued by amateurish acting, “It Takes Three” is a forgettable mashup of a John Hughes movie and “Cyrano de Bergerac.” There’s an overabundance of teen romantic comedies that have the storyline of a nerdy underdog who has a secret crush on someone who’s seemingly unattainable. The challenge for filmmakers who turn this over-used trope into a movie is to do something uniquely creative with the plot and the characters. Unfortunately, “It Takes Three” comes up short on every single level.

Directed by Scott Coffey and written by Logan Burdick and Blair Mastbaum, “It Takes Three” doesn’t have a single thing about it that hasn’t been done in other teen romantic comedies. Not even the title is original, since there’s at least one other feature film titled “It Takes Three.” In director Coffey’s “It Takes Three,” the movie is so banal and lacking in originality, viewers could watch the first 20 minutes and easily predict what’s going to happen for the rest of the movie.

In the production notes for “It Takes Three,” Coffey makes this statement: “Directing ‘It Takes Three’ grew out of my personal history with teen movies. I was an actor in the John Hughes films ‘Some Kind of Wonderful’ and ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ and also had leading roles in ‘Shag’ and ‘Satisfaction.’ These movies were a huge part of my own coming of age as an actor and I wanted ‘It Takes Three’ to harken back to these transformative 1980s teen movies. I wanted to homage these classics and add to their lineage, but at the same time, I wanted to make something fresh and new.”

Actually, there’s nothing fresh and new about “It Takes Three.” The only things that the filmmakers did to try to make this movie look more “modern” than a Hughes movie were to have a lot more explicit discussions of sex and to include today’s technology as a big part of the storyline. But again, other teen romantic comedies have already done those exact same things. The best Hughes movies are considered classics because of the snappy dialogue and because the roles were played by talented cast members. By contrast, “It Takes Three” has witless dialogue and some cast members who need to take more acting lessons because they’re just not believable in their roles.

In “It Takes Three,” protagonist Cy Berger (played by Jared Gilman) is a shy nerd whose only friend is Kat Walker (played by Mikey Madison), who’s a stereotypical wisecracking “sidekick” character in movies of this type. Kat and Cy are students at the same high school in an unnamed U.S. city, where Cy is a social outcast. And yet somehow (it’s never explained in the movie), Cy has gotten a date with a pretty and popular student named Cora (played by Katie Baker), who is as vain about her physical appearance as Cy is insecure about how he looks.

“It Takes Three” opens with a nervous Cy driving to Cora’s house to pick her up for their first date together. Cy predictably drives the type of old, clunky and dirty car that a shallow person like Cora wouldn’t even want to be near. But since this movie is so poorly written, it never tells what led up to this hard-to-believe scenario that Cora wants to go on a date with Cy. Is it a pity date? Did Cy help Cora with her homework and is this her way of thanking him? Did she lose a bet? Don’t expect any answers.

Cy awkwardly compliments Cora by telling her that she looks electrifying. She thinks it’s an odd description of her, so she asks Cy if he’s rolling on molly. (Translation for people who don’t know drug slang: She wants to know if he’s high on Ecstasy.) And if so, Cora tells Cy that she wants some of this drug. Cy tells her that he’s sober and that he’s on a natural high, just by being with her. How did these two obviously mismatched people end up on a date? Right from the start, this movie looks too fake for its own good.

The whole purpose of this phony-looking and very contrived date is so the filmmakers could set up a humiliating experience for Cy. This humiliation serves as the catalyst for the rest of the story. Kat is helping Cy on this date, which takes place at a beach, by arranging to be part of a small marching band (how very un-romantic) perform on the beach during the date. Cy also wants the date to be an opportunity to ask Cora to the school’s upcoming prom.

When Cy asks Cora his big prom date question, she casually tells him no because she wants to have sex on prom night, and Cy just isn’t who she has in mind as a sex partner for her. Cora tells Cy: “I just can’t imagine you going down on me. It’s an important part of my prom fantasy.” Unfortunately for Cy, Cora gave him this rejection right when he was having an erection.

And it’s get worse for Cy: A fellow classmate, who saw Cy and Cora on the beach together, was close enough to use a phone to zoom in and film Cy with this erection during Cora’s rejection. The video was posted online. Of course, the video went viral. And so, the next time that Cy is at school, he is mercilessly teased by many students about it.

What do Cy’s parents have to say about this bullying? They don’t do much about it except to tell Cy that they love him just the way he is. Cy’s parents are two lesbians named Sara (played by Lori Alan) and Jessica (played by Jessica Lorez), who appear briefly in the movie in an early scene where they seem more concerned about talking about their sex life in front of Cy than getting help for their obviously depressed child.

Cy is so insecure about his looks that he wants to have plastic surgery, but his mothers discourage him from this idea. That doesn’t stop Cy from visiting a plastic surgeon’s office by himself for a consultation. In a voiceover, Cy has this to say about why he wants to change his physical appearance: “It doesn’t matter how stupid, lazy and uncultured you are, if you have a pretty face, people just love you.”

One of these “pretty people” whom Cy has resentment toward is the school bully who’s been the cruelest to Cy. His name is Chris Newton (played by David Gridley), a self-centered star athlete who has an obsession with filming himself doing karate and other martial arts, and putting the videos on his social media. Chris is described as one of the most popular classmates at the school. But you can tell this movie was written by adults who are clueless about what today’s young people think is “cool,” because in real life, Chris would be considered a stupid dork in an athlete’s body.

It doesn’t help that Gridley’s acting is among the worst in this subpar movie that has Chris as a one-dimensional dimwit. Gridley’s acting style is way too hammy in this role. Guys who are considered “cool” and “popular” in high school don’t act this ridiculous. Cy is also written in very broad strokes (every conceivable nerd stereotype) and portrayed by an actor whose talent isn’t on the same level as the talent of some of the other cast members.

Cy is still recovering from the embarrassment of his viral video when he meets a new student named Roxy (played by Aurora Perrineau), who establishes a friendly rapport with him. Roxy is a free-thinking feminist who is sort of an outsider herself, since she’s a new student and isn’t as superficial as the popular students in school. It doesn’t take long for Cy to forget all about Cora and instead fixate on Roxy as his ideal dream girl.

But what do you know, Chris ends up being attracted to Roxy too. Cy thinks he won’t have a chance of competing against Chris for Roxy’s affections. And through a series of contrived events, Cy ends up making a deal with Chris to get Chris to stop bullying him: Cy agrees to create an online persona to pretend to be Chris and woo Roxy.

It works too much for Cy’s comfort, because Roxy believes that the romantic and articulate person she’s talking to online is Chris. She has no idea that the person she’s really talking to online is Cy, even though she’s getting to know Cy as a friend. Roxy thinks that maybe Chris isn’t a dumb, conceited jock after all. And she agrees to date him. Cue the scenes where Cy comes up with the words that Chris says on these dates.

The more that Roxy starts to fall for Chris, the more miserable Cy gets, until he begins to wonder what would happen if he told Roxy the truth. “It Takes Three” has cliché after cliché of teen comedies, including a showdown at a prom and a race against time to confess true feelings to a love interest. The filmmakers didn’t even try to do anything different with these stereotypes.

Perrineau’s depiction of Roxy is adequate, but Roxy looks and acts more like Cy’s chaperone than a potential girlfriend because Roxy is so much more emotionally mature than Cy. One of the main problems with “It Takes Three” is that some of the cast members, such as Perrineau and Gridley, do not look believable as high schoolers, because these actors look and act much older than high school students. It’s distracting and an example of bad judgment in this movie’s filmmaking.

And where is Cy’s best friend Kat during all of Cy’s angst? She’s sidelined for most of the movie, but she makes it clear that she disapproves of Cy’s deception in the online persona scam that Cy has with Chris. Kat also thinks that Cy can do better than all the “unattainable” girls he constantly falls for and who end up breaking his heart.

Walker’s portrayal of Kat is one of the few highlights of the film, because she displays comedic timing that’s much better than her castmates. It’s too bad that the Kat character is so underdeveloped. Her biggest scenes are in the beginning and end of the movie.

Other romantic comedies have already done this spin on the “Cyrano de Bergerac” play—most notably 1987’s “Roxanne,” starring Steve Martin and Daryl Hannah. You won’t find anything surprising in “It Takes Three.” Usually, the “nerdy underdog” in the story is supposed to be witty and charming, but the Cy character is dull and whiny. For a better-made teen romantic comedy that uses the “Cyrano de Bergerac” template, watch director Alice Wu’s award-winning 2020 movie “The Half of It.”

Gunpowder & Sky released “It Takes Three” on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021.