A lanky American (Golblum) plays stooge to an obnoxious comedian (Atkinson) and rues his cheap, hayfever-ridden existence until a too-filthy-to-be-true nurse enters his life, bringing order, commitment and sex aplenty. All she asks from him is fidelity, which he falls emphatically short of providing.
Clearly if you have one of your female characters exhorting your male lead to take the female lead and "shag her till her ears drop off", then Sophisticated Comedy instantly becomes Sex Romp. For if you strip away the odd Comic Strip-isms and the knowing references to contemporary Britain that are the stock in trade of TV graduates like director Mel Smith and writer Richard Curtis, then The Tall Guy is nothing if not a snappy, highly-polished two-hander of the kind that Gary Grant used to roll out in the 30s.
Thompson, brisk, classless, coquettish and just a little bit twee, leads the fumbling Goldblum by the nose and introduces him to her individual notion of sexual morality. She prefers to have sex first and thus avoid the tension and expense of ten pre-coital dinners. She reorganises his life, flings out his Madonna posters, bans his Superman pyjamas and helps him escape a life sentence with vicious Ron. And they do indeed shag each other's ears off in one delightful sequence among the knick-knacks and stray groceries of her flat.
But what she demands from him is absolute fidelity. When he blunders into a one-night stand with a fellow actor she takes it more seriously than we're used to seeing young women in the movies do. She leaves, he crumples and even his success in a West End musical version of The Elephant Man called Elephant! doesn't heal his despair.
Mel Smith ably manages the narrative, moving between the not-quite glamorous West End, the shabby bohemian fringes of Hampstead, late night walks on Primrose Hill and the hard pressed hospital where Thompson works, taking pointed sideswipes at Andrew Lloyd-Webber in particular and the acting profession in general.
Richard Curtis deserves great credit for having the nerve to write a serious love story while retaining the wit to make it sharp and knockabout. And London Weekend Television are to be congratulated on having the shrewdness to invest in what is a terrifically tube-friendly film rather than an awful TV movie. Goldblum and Atkinson have done their careers no harm whatsoever but it's Thompson's performance persuasive, intelligent, mannered but with a sexuality that crackles like clean sheetsthat ignites the film. Brushing past the hapless Goldblum in the hospital corridor she excuses herself with one of The Tall Guy's many terrific lines: "There's a man expecting my hand up his bottom and one doesn't like to disappoint the old folk." Quite.**
Mel Smith succesfully ushers his Comic Strip lewdity, and a hugely impressive cast, onto the big screen.