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In a nameless, suburban American town, the smell of barbeque fills the air as Fourth of July celebrations move from a hot summer day into night. Joe, a man who works hard and travels a lot, leaves his family behind for the holiday, citing a business trip. Abigayle, his precocious daughter, is left to tend to her ill mother and manage the house on her own, yet again. Seeking just enough attention to get her through another night of her lonely responsibilities, she turns to Dexter, a former high school basketball star whose best days are behind him. And while Abigayle is out with Dexter, Joe is quietly spending time around town with June, a young man he met online who's struggling to accept himself. And for just this night, the small world that these four live in will become even smaller, though the freedom they experience has never been so dangerous, fleeting and honest. Written by
Look, if you gonna act all bitchy, I'll take you home.
Uh, you'll take me however I am - and don't call me a bitch.
I did not call you a bitch.
Yes, you did.
No. I didn't. I said you were acting bitchy. I wouldn't call you a bitch. I never call a woman a bitch.
You call your mother a bitch.
That's my mother.
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"Four", which I have just seen at the London Film Festival, is a very good film. It's a story about awkwardness, indecision and the search for love. It boasts excellent performances from the four leading actors and a very good screenplay and, at a mere 75 minutes or so, is a short film. Despite its relative brevity, it packs a powerful emotional punch and is a very impressive piece of film-making.
Set on 4 July (Independence Day in the United States), it features two seemingly mismatched couplings: Joe and June; and Dexter and Abigayle. Joe (Wendell Pierce) is a forty something black college professor who is married, but whose wife is ill and needs constant care and attention. Abigayle (Aja Naomi King) is his adolescent daughter. Joe has a seemingly settled home-life but is, in fact, secretly gay and uses the internet to try to meet other gay people. June (Emory Cohen) - an odd name for a boy: his parents named him thus because he was supposed to have been born in that month but he was a premature baby and his birthday is actually in April - is a white 15- year old and is trying to come to terms with the fact that he is gay. But he is a very self- conscious, awkward, occasionally taciturn teenager who is finding it difficult to come out to friends and family. Joe and June meet via the internet and are having their first "date" together. Whereas June is shy and introspective, Dexter (E J Bonilla) is almost the complete opposite. He is brash, confident and extrovert. He loves playing basketball and has dropped out of school. Dexter is going out with Abigayle, although their relationship is clearly fragile. Abigayle challenges what she sees as his idiotic chat-up lines and his general cockiness. While her father is meeting June (unbeknown to her, of course), she agrees to meet Dexter for a short time. She is supposed to stay at home to look after her mother and because she is expecting a phone call from her father who she believes is on a work-related visit to Boston. In fact, their date appears to last for the whole evening, and in the course of it Abigayle unexpectedly sees Joe in his car with June (although Joe is unaware that his cover has been blown).
"Four" very skilfully portrays the search for love and for happiness that, in their own different way, each of the four principal characters is undertaking (as, indeed, we all constantly are, of course). That search is an emotional minefield with confusion, an inability to communicate, self-loathing and an arrogance that conceals vulnerability and timidity all on display to some extent. This is a very well-acted and -directed film that says much in its 75 minutes. It is also intelligent, thoughtful and heartbreaking. I suspect that "Four" will not hit the headlines or cause much of a stir. But in its understated way, it is a devastatingly effective film and one that will linger long in the memory of anyone who sees it. Highly recommended. 8/10.
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