Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Movie Review - Four (2013)

It's difficult to unpack everything that's occurring in this movie, even though it isn't that long. It's based on a play by Christopher Shinn who gave his characters a lot of richness.

Writer-director Joshua Sanchez structures his film in a way that ping pongs between two parallel stories. A lot of what happens may seem obvious, but it takes perhaps multiple viewings to fully grasp the nuances. It's not confusing. Sanchez's adaptation is simply subtle and layered, but definitely leaves the audience wanting more. Because the film takes place all in one night, it can be taken mainly as a slice of life, or as brief character studies.

Four focuses on a quad of persons. The first one we see is a college-age boy named June, played by Emory Cohen. June secretly meets up with a 40-something, black man named Joe, played by Wendell Pierce (The Wire and The Michael J. Fox Show). Across town, Joe's teenage daughter, Abigayle, played by Aja Naomi King, is babysitting her troubled mother but sneaks off to spend time with a Latino and aspiring, college basketball player named Dexter, played by E. J. Bonilla. The two couples of June and Joe as well as Abigayle and Dexter hang out all in one night, and discuss various issues as well as their potential relationships with one another.

The title of the movie probably refers to the four times that the number four is referenced in relation to the story. For example, the whole movie is set on the night of July 4th. The character of June says to Joe that his parents named him after the month of June, which is one of 4 months in the calendar with 30 days. June also says that he was supposed to be born in the month of April, which is the actual 4th month of the year. Toward the end, Abigayle says that her mom got sick when she was only 4 years-old.

Aja Naomi King as Abigayle in "Four"
The characters have multiple scenes driving in cars, but no one knows where they want to go. For at least one person in each of the couples, that person wants simply to get out of whatever situation he or she has, if only for one night. They may not know where they want to go, but they know where they want to leave. In each of the couples, one person is the more aggressive in terms of instigating discussion and ultimately instigating sex.

There is definitely a tug-of-war that happens within each couple. One person, mainly the instigator, will pull and the other will pull back or often pull away. For example, there's no question that Dexter wants to have intercourse with Abigayle who is certainly interested, thus the rope between them, but everytime Dexter tries to get the ball bouncing with a compliment she puts up a wall to block his shots.

Sanchez eventually builds to each of his couples physically coming together. Yet, their mutual climaxes aren't the movie's climax. For June and Abigayle, the climax occurs in the aftermath of sex when the two have to confront their fears or chief concerns. For June, it's his own internalized homophobia, and feelings of inadequacy. For Abigayle, it's her own intimacy issues from a distant father and mentally checked out mother.

All the performances here are great. Earlier in the year, Emory Cohen was featured in The Place Beyond the Pines and from the way he was there to here, he was completely unrecognizable. I thought throughout this movie that it couldn't be the same person. E. J. Bonilla who I had known from the late soap opera Guiding Light is just so suave and sexy but has tiny moments that really sell his character. Even the way he says "thank you" is charming and endearing.

Wendell Pierce is of course always amazing. A few years ago, he was in a movie opposite Queen Latifah called Life Support (2007), which dealt with straight women dealing with HIV / AIDS but it also included other perspectives like that of a young gay man. This movie is probably the perfect companion piece to that. Through his character in a heart-breaking monologue, you get the further effect of the problem but on an older, black man.

Five Stars out of Five.
Rated R for sexual content, language and brief drug use.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 15 mins.
Available Now on Digital Platforms.
On DVD on January 14, 2014, via Wolfe Video.
Go to: http://www.fourthemovie.com/watch/ for availability.

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