This story of four working-class kids in a small industrial town--who go their separate ways after high school in the innocence of 1961 and come together again at the end of the turbulent ...
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This story of four working-class kids in a small industrial town--who go their separate ways after high school in the innocence of 1961 and come together again at the end of the turbulent Sixties--is as much about the coming of age of America as it is about the changes the characters go through. The four friends of the title are thoughtful Danilo, a Yugoslavian immigrant with dreams of being a writer and a scholar; Tom, good-looking and athletic, who is bound for the army; cautious David who has mixed feelings about staying in town and joining the family mortuary business; and lovely, ditzy, exasperating Georgia, who tries to inspire all of them with her longings for a life of Bohemian adventure. It is told through the eyes of Danilo, whose story is loosely based on the writer Tesich's own life growing up in Bloomington, Indiana.Written by
A disappointing film. Not underrated and not a lost masterpiece.
I was born in 1984. I grew up in the '90s. And one day, I may grow attached to an appealingly wistful but ultimately mediocre and messy film about that decade.
That's just what FOUR FRIENDS is: a mediocre and messy film about the '60s that, I can imagine, might hold some sentimental value to a person who has been there. But, sentimental value aside, FOUR FRIENDS is an unfortunate misfire of a motion picture.
I've seen Penn's own BONNIE AND CLYDE, as well as countless other American and international films from the 1960s. I've read Joe Boyd's "WHITE BICYCLES: MAKING MUSIC IN THE '60S." I like some '60s musicians that it isn't even trendy to like these days. I like most things to do with that decade, and that is why FOUR FRIENDS was a great disappointment to me.
FOUR FRIENDS begins to reveal its problems early on. Within the first twenty minutes, we hear brief snippets of narration from two different narrators, and the dialogue is so badly mixed that it sounds no different from the narration.
Both of these problems continue: characters abruptly become narrators and then just as abruptly stop narrating. The movie focuses enough on one character (Danilo, a Yugoslavian immigrant played by Craig Wasson) to have a protagonist, but his perspective is constantly undermined by the fact that any character can chime in with narration and then just as soon be forgotten. And the sound mixing remains atrocious throughout. Dialogue is so loud in relation to background noise that sometimes characters don't appear to be speaking in their own voices (It's likely that most of the dialogue in this film was recorded in a studio and dubbed. Dubbed dialogue can become convincing if it is mixed well with the background noise, and even a bad synching job can be hidden by lowering the dialogue and turning up the background; whoever mixed this movie must not have known that).
FOUR FRIENDS bears some similarities to Fellini's AMARCORD; both are sprawling portraits of an era with multiple narrators and an episodic plot.
But in AMARCORD, the camera remains at a considerable distance from the actors, as if to say that we are seeing a portrait of a place more than a portrait of any individuals, and, though it does have a central character, it shifts its focus regularly enough that its lack of focus on a protagonist doesn't bother us. The switching of narrators isn't jarring, for it is consistent with the movie's broad focus.
FOUR FRIENDS, however, is shot in Penn's typical closeup-heavy style, and the script's focus is clearly on Danilo. The film's vision is not as wide as it seems to believe: in a movie called FOUR FRIENDS, we really only get to know one of them (and we don't even get to know him that well), and the three supporting friends are inserted with such inconsistency that it's hard to say whether the movie would have benefited from less of them or more of them. It doesn't give us a complete picture of any characters within its scenes, nor does it convince us that the characters have lives outside of its scenes.
FOUR FRIENDS also wants to capture both the "smaller picture" of the lives of four people as well as the "bigger picture" of the '60s and it fails on this account as well. Most scenes are either too epic or too myopic in scope; when Danilo gets caught up in the times, it is not in relation to any characters but in relation to generic hippies and activists who walk on screen only to abruptly disappear, as if to say, "oh yeah, we forgot to remind you that this movie takes place in the '60s." The beard that Danilo wears during his college years is also highly unconvincing.
In the scenes that do attempt to actually blend the personal and the societal, the action is too heavy-handed to carry any impact: this is the type of movie that explores the generation gap by having a gray-haired minor character engage in a random act of extreme violence that also conveniently works as one of the plots several deus ex machinas.
FOUR FRIENDS wants its characters to outline an era, but it fails to convince us that they even had a life outside of their formally constructed scenes.
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