FOUR FRIENDS (aka: GEORGIA’S FRIENDS) (director: Arthur Penn; screenwriter: Steven Tesich; cinematographer: Ghislain Cloquet; editors: Marc Laub/Barry Malkin ; music: Elizabeth Swados; cast: Craig Wasson (Danilo Prozor), Jim Metzler (Tom), Jodi Thelen (Georgia), Michael Huddleston (David Levine), Reed Birney (Louie), Julia Murray (Adrienne), James Leo Herlihy (Mr. Carnahan), Elizabeth Lawrence (Mrs. Prozor), Miklos Simon (Mr. Prozor), Michael Kovacs (Prozor Neighbor), David Graf (Gergley), Scott Hardt (Young Danilo), Natalija Nogulich (Vera); Runtime: 115; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Arthur Penn/Gene Lasko; MGM Home Entertainment; 1981)
“Ends in an unconvincing pat way after much tragedy.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Arthur Penn (“Alice’s Restaurant”/”Bonnie and Clyde”/”The Miracle Worker”) directs this sometimes charming coming-of-age tale that ultimately falters because it’s too ambitious, uneven and ends in an unconvincing pat way after much tragedy. It’s the mildly diverting episodic melodrama based on the largely autobiographical screenplay by Steven Tesich, that presents another version of the immigrant’s American Dream. “Four Friends” becomes unfocused and choppy the more it desperately tries to explain the Sixties as a time of upheaval, freedom rides, war protests, sexual revolution, druggie culture and whatnot. Those vignettes were too inane and undeveloped to have much significance, as the film tries to cover too much ground over background events rather than staying focused on its main character.
The adolescent Danilo Prozor (Craig Wasson) and his mother (Elizabeth Lawrence) exit Yugoslavia for East Chicago, Indiana (a blue-collar suburb of Gary), during the 1950s to reunite with the boy’s sullen father (Miklos Simon) who has been working as a steelworker for years and remembers his son only as an infant. It will chronicle Danilo’s life as a teenager in the 1950s until the end of the Sixties, where as a twentysomething he makes his own way in the world as a much different person than his somber folks–who retire and return to their homeland leaving their son in America to fulfill his American Dream.
To escape his unhappy home-life, where Danilo upsets his hard-working dad when he refuses to follow in his footsteps as a worker, the idealistic lad hangs out with fellow high school band-members: the all-American jock Tom (Jim Metzler), the overweight Jewish outsider who is son of the mortician David (Michael Huddleston), and the free-spirited aspiring dancer Georgia (Jodi Thelen). Georgia believes she’s the reincarnation of Isadora Duncan, though no one else does. All three flirt with the perky Georgia (embodying the flighty soul and generous spirit of America) and after graduation in 1961 go their separate ways. One night the self-absorbed Georgia offers her love to Danilo, who refuses to make love to the virgin in his house with his father in the next room. The rejected Georgia gets impregnated by Tom, and when he shuns marriage to be a soldier the happy-go-lucky Georgia gets the obliging David to marry her.
Meanwhile Danilo lands at Northwestern University, and rooms with the slowly dying genial crippled rich boy Louie (Reed Birney). But tragedy hits when Louie’s incestuous dad (James Leo Herlihy) insanely halts the marriage of his daughter (Julia Murray) to Danilo. Eventually Danilo returns from NYC and working the steel mills of Pennsylvania to East Chicago and the titular four friends will reunite for an old-fashioned happy ending, that seems misplaced in a sentimental film that Penn could never get a firm grip on despite his sensitivity to the lead characters.
REVIEWED ON 3/1/2010 GRADE: C+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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