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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Four Friends
Four Friends
MGM // R // August 23, 2005
List Price: $14.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Scott Weinberg | posted September 18, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

It's the early 1960s in East Chicago, and it's there that four friends ... do stuff. There's "free spirit" Georgia, who fancies herself the second coming of Isadora Duncan; Danilo, the idealistic son of Yugoslavian immigrants; David, the chubby Jewish nerd; and Tom, a character defined entirely by his muscles. Oddly, for a movie called "Four Friends," one-half of the quartet is pretty much ignored completely, except when Steve Tesich's maudlin screenplay calls for an extra body to be onscreen.

Apparently intended to be some sort of "trip through the 1960s through the eyes of four disparate youths," Four Friends is instead a series of barely connected dialogue explosions that never once come close to the insight and poignancy the filmmakers were shooting for. Odd that such an aggressively simplistic and push-button movie would spring from the collaboration of director Arthur Penn (Bonnie & Clyde) and screenwriter Steve Tesich (Breaking Away), but this flick must have been one of those well-intentioned pet projects that only got made because the filmmakers' previous releases made money.

Putting aside the very few moments of effective humor and / or sincere character moments, practically nothing about Four Friends rings true. The screenplay is trite, tepid, and laden with rather abysmal sequences. (Wait till you see what happens at the end of Danilo's wedding! Hoo boy.) Characters we've never met die in strangely tragic ways as the viewer sits back and wonders "Wait, was that someone I was supposed to care about?" The quaratet of ever-whining old pals seem to bump into each other every few years, but there's little to no explanation as to A) where they've been, B) why they're back, and C) why we should even give a wet slap.

And frankly ... most of the performances are pretty poor. Aside from Craig Wasson, who'd go on to mildly bigger things before vanishing entirely, the cast is a who's who of indie amateur hour, and the character who's meant to be the very heart, soul, and backbone of the story (that oh-so-adorably wifty Georgia) is played with a breathless inanity by someone called Jodi Thelen. So broad and goofy is her performance that it reminded me of Julie Hagerty's hilarious performance in Airplane! -- only Julie knew she was playing a comedic role; Thelen's emoting here for all she's worth, and the result is almost embarrassing.

Basically, if it's a poignant ensemble piece you're looking for, something with realistic, sympathetic characters, well-crafted screenplays, and solid acting performances, I'd say stick with The Big Chill, The Return of the Seacaucus Seven, or Mr. Tesich's own Breaking Away. Four Friends feels like some the writer slapped together to meet a deadline, with an extra helping of autobiographical hooey on the side.

The DVD

Video: The Widescreen (1.85:1) Anamorphic transfer looks pretty darn impressive, considering this is a low-budget chat-fest from 1981.

Audio: Dolby Digital Mono, in your choice of English or French. Audio quality is above-average for a flick of this stature, but you might need to crank the volume up just a bit. Optional subtitles are available in English, French, and Spanish.

Extras: The original Four Friends theatrical trailer.

Final Thoughts

I've heard some say this is a better-than-average film that effectively captures the tumultuous sixties and the young folks who were caught up in the craziness of it all.

I saw an aimless film with unlikeable characters stuck in illogical situations and spouting inane comments. Maybe it's a generational thing.

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