J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, June 15, 2012

LAFF ’12: FOUR


His name is June, but unlike Johnny Cash’s Boy Named Sue, he is more sullen than angry.  He is also sexually conflicted (no kidding).  At least he has found someone willing to listen to him: a middle-aged middle class husband and father who should not be trawling for teens on the internet.  They constitute one of the two couples circling around each other on a fateful Fourth of July night in Joshua Sanchez’s FOUR (trailer here), which screens today at the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival.

Joe really ought to be at home with his emotionally deteriorating wife, but instead he has arranged a clandestine rendezvous with the teenaged June.  Pretending to be at an out-of-town conference, he has left his daughter Abigayle to mind her mother.  More or less home alone, she will have to field the clumsy advances of Dexter, a would-be basketball star with a drug problem.  Suspecting something is fishy with her upright father, Abigayle starts encouraging Dexter out of spite.  Connections might be made, but the results are not what you would probably call romance.

Frankly, there is something creepy about a film that considers a grown man sexually pursuing a teenager (not of legal age) sympathetic in any fashion.  Indeed, June and Joe’s “courtship” scenes are criminal (according to Joe, the character) and most certainly unsavory.  Yet ironically, Wendell Pierce’s admittedly richly nuanced and fully dimensional performance as the older man makes it all the more difficult to draw a bead on the film’s ethical-moral framework.

Pierce and his voice, HBO fixtures in Treme and The Wire, are quite compelling, but the breakout star has to be Aja Naomi King as Abigayle, completely engaging portraying her character’s intelligence as well as her bitter capriciousness.  Unfortunately, both of their potential partners are rather bland screen presences.

Sure to be a special interest to New York theater patrons, FOUR is based on Christopher Shinn’s play and boasts Neil LaBute as one of its executive producers.  Given the film’s interracial pairings, many critics will surely be tempted to compare FOUR to Crash.  It would be a dubious compliment.  At least Sanchez creates a memorable late-night in-the-moment vibe.  A highly problematic film featuring two quite accomplished screen turns, FOUR is not necessarily recommended, but it will likely find an appreciative audience nonetheless when it screens today (6/15) and Monday (6/18) as part of this year’s LA Film Festival.

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