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  Four Friends As Tears Go By
Year: 1981
Director: Arthur Penn
Stars: Craig Wasson, Jodi Thelen, Michael Huddleston, Jim Metzler, Elizabeth Lawrence, Miklos Simon, Reed Birney, Julia Murray, Lois Smith, James Leo Herlihy, Natalia Nogulich, Glenne Headly, David Graf, Zaid Farid, Mercedes Ruehl
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: When he was a boy, Danilo Prozor (Craig Wasson) immigrated with his mother (Elizabeth Lawrence) from Yugoslavia to the United States to meet his father (Miklos Simon) for the first time, as the elder Prozor had moved abroad around the time he was born. For this reason he never felt that he really got to know his father, who was gruff and distant at the best of times, and working in the steel town of East Chicago was not what the young Danilo had in mind for a career. He had three friends: David (Michael Huddleston), Tom (Jim Metzler) and the girl they all adored, Georgia (Jodi Thelen) - but who would end up with her?

Well, whoever it was they were welcome to her, as Four Friends was the prime example of a movie that had a devoted following most other viewers could not see the appeal of. Of the four stars, none went on to be big names, although Craig Wasson became a face of the eighties for a while as he served the bland everyman role in a number of works that have gained a degree of cult success, and as few audiences responded to this particular effort when it was released, perhaps nobody was clamouring to see these actors in anything else, although they continued to work fairly steadily for years after.

On paper, it should be a performer's dream, a film that takes in the the whole decade of the sixties and adopts an epic feel for how the characters are buffeted by circumstance and world events: we can see them change with the passage of time, get to know their hopes and dreams and fears, all that stuff that makes for grand melodrama. Except much of what you took away from Four Friends was that in spite of these tumultuous occurences in their lives, they really didn't change very much, and by the time they've assembled at the end of the film to look back on what has been a significant period, you wonder if they might not have been better staying put and keeping their heads down.

What makes this a pity was that screenwriter Steve Tesich drew from his own formative experiences to create the script, so you would think that what marks out the story would be at least believable in some way, yet you never feel as if you're watching something authentic, mainly because the manner in which the themes are brought out - rich versus poor, young versus old - are too often clumsily illustrated. Did we really need to see a hippy Glenne Headly reversing a car out of the upper storey of a building only to explode in the street below to understand that the sixties crashed and burned? Too much of what takes place is nothing less than overstatement.

And yet, you can see what director Arthur Penn was trying to do, which was sum up the four friends of the title in a way that could be universally understood by anyone watching. However, the fact remains you don't get to know them well enough: David, for instance, is drawn in broad strokes: he's fat, he's Jewish, he's a bit of a loser, but even that is nothing compared to how Georgia is depicted. It's a wonder that rather than making the three men all fall for her, that she didn't drive them all up the wall, which is essentially what she does to Danilo, even though he's still in love with her and is trying to find something to replace her when she pops out of his life in a flurry of arty pretension. If we could perceive what was so attractive about Georgia, then this would be an easier watch, but Thelen is lumbered with a role that should have been the heart and soul, and ends up being the hollow centre. Maybe real life was like this for Tesich, but it doesn't ring true for many. Music by Elizabeth Swados.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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Arthur Penn  (1922 - 2010)

American theatre and film director whose depiction of the rebellious character in movies found its most celebrated example in Bonnie and Clyde, which was hugely important in ushering in a new style of Hollywood film, not to mention new styles in Hollywood violence. Before that he had helmed psychological Billy the Kid story The Left Handed Gun, the much acclaimed The Miracle Worker, and Warren Beatty-starring experimental flop Mickey One, which nevertheless led to the both of them making the gangster movie that was so influential.

After that, Penn moved back and forth from film to theatre, with album adaptation Alice's Restaurant, revisionist Westerns Little Big Man and The Missouri Breaks, and cult thriller Night Moves among the films that sustained his following. Others included Marlon Brando melodrama The Chase, Four Friends, gothic thriller Dead of Winter, and Penn and Teller Get Killed.

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