Let’s talk about sex.
Executive produced by Michael Stipe (Being John Malkovich, Velvet Goldmine) and boosted by a successful Kickstarter program, Fourplay is a quartet of short films about contemporary sexuality, with each segment utilizing a different American metropolis as its backdrop (including the hoppin’ town of Skokie, Illinois). With each quarter of the film directed by Kyle Henry, working with scripts from writers Carlos Trevino or Jessica Hedrick, this indie sex comedy (with segments that have played at Cannes and Sundance) has a strong dosage of quirkiness with its kinkiness, never losing sight of its ultimate intent to express the bonding potential of a revelatory sexual experience.
Beginning with a credit sequence that involves images of heterosexual and homosexual porno from centuries ago, Fourplay is a film that plays for both sexual teams. Like John Cameron Mitchell’s cult classic Shortbus (he directed Hedwig and the Angry Inch and would later make the Oscar-nominated Rabbit Hole), Fourplay is a film that basks in its own sexual openness and is eager to throw audiences to all ends of the sexual spectrum. Not meant as a negative comparison, if this film featured voiceovers in each of its segments, it would easily be taken as the film version of the (addictive) column by writer Dan Savage, “Savage Love.” Like Savage’s column, Fourplay encourages its viewers to discuss different ideas of sex and most importantly, to always be open about it.
Fourplay’s thesis of sexual openness kicks off with a small scamper in this silly first film, in which a woman’s (Sara Sevigny) homosexual crush on her friend (Amy Jean Driver) dominos into a sexual fascination with that friend’s dog. With its bizarre arc, Skokie looks to poke fun at repression, insinuating that there is more to be discovered underneath the layers one may already be ashamed of.
Driven by humor that doesn’t reach beyond the level of silly awkwardness, the pivotal jokes in this comedy don’t play that well, even when the editing of the movie nudges humors to laugh along with the cheesy dog puppetry or the script is fine with simply heightening the clumsiness of Sevigny’s character. While the lack of self-seriousness in this short is welcome, the script can’t make more out of itself than a fumbling character with a cutesy arc. Fourplay successfully plants its seed of sexual responsiveness to one’s self with Skokie, but this short is best as a mentioning of an idea, rather than a standalone special story of a significant character’s self discovery.
While its intentions are in the right place, this second segment is a receipt for a short film’s emotional tall order. Actors can only provide so much within one non-feature film and the same goes for the audience’s ability to register such.
Austin begins with the story of a young couple fighting over their lack of sex life, especially since one of their relatives has come to stay with their baby. (“This was going to be our hot night of fuck,” the boyfriend, played by Atticus Rowe, says. To which his girlfriend, played by Danielle Rene replies, “You’re such a fag.”)
From here, the film somehow turns into a brief abortion drama, in which a months-old secret is divulged to everyone’s surprise and discomfort. With the couple strained, they find themselves in an adult video store, where the woman lures her boyfriend into the viewing room by pretending to be someone else (AKA she wears sunglasses and has a cheap European accent). Then, they have sex. Fin.
Austin’s goal to express a pivotal spark in one couple’s relationship has no zest, and makes this dramatic dare less serious to take than the quadrilogy’s other, goofier moments. Especially compared to the segment that follows it (Tampa), Austin is an example of the limited space, like that of a small freezer, allotted to a short; Austin wants to bend the frozen pizzas.
With potential to have a second life as an definitively NSFW viral video, this short film takes on the boyish vulgarity of fratty flicks and raises the concept of bathroom humor to an astronomic level, one that many people have likely never seen paralleled and will not for a long while. With compelling craziness, this short is thoroughly nutty as it explores one man’s (Jose Villarreal) desire to be involved with a group sex session in what must be the galaxy’s gayest shopping mall bathroom.
Before one can even lean over to their friend and inquire, “Uh … is this maybe possibly potentially a little too super Gay?” this segment giddily piles on its ridiculousness, becoming a cavalcade of stereotypical costumes and shameless full frontal nudity basking in its free reign and its ability to produce imagery that is one man’s fantasy and another’s nightmare.
With hardly any dialogue, the film gets its kicks from its many visuals, including the blatant full frontal nudity and also the presentation of various stereotypes associated with the Gay community. But, then the Marx Brothers show up and so does Jesus and a short that stands on its own from its foursome becomes even nuttier. Like any successful short film, this bizarre segment provides more heed to the understanding that it doesn’t matter about the length, only what you do with it.
After a previous film year that found a hot trend in stories of handicapped folk bonding with their caretakers (such as The Sessions or The Intouchables), this tale of a transvestite (Paul Soileau) being hired to tend to a paralyzed man (Gary Chason) is one that would be welcome amongst those two titles, while aiming for the same emotional strength in a shorter running time. For whatever it may be worth, one could argue that the finite nature of San Francisco (primarily taking place in a bedroom, with the man only able to wink as dialogue) is beneficial to preventing it from being overwrought from previous sex surrogate movie The Sessions. This is not a film that needs to explain itself, as The Sessions so poorly did with its religious subplot.
This segment of surprising power is led first and foremost by its Helen Hunt, Soileau, who has such a striking gentility in a part that reveals itself to have surprising emotional corners. As San Francisco builds itself to an emotional climax between the two characters, Soileau brings the audience into the moment with similar delicacy, providing an emotional payoff for two different characters that achieves an unexpected peace.
With three of its unique stories not soon to be forgotten (sorry, Austin), half of Fourplay (Tampa, San Francisco) takes strong advantage of the finiteness to be found in a short film’s arc. These are two films that could stand strong on their own, without being in a thematically bound anthology like Fourplay, while holding their ground against mainstream and certainly more heterosexual, contemporaries.
By using four shorts in one 80-minute film, director Kyle Henry finds a clever concept to express many different perspectives of one idea, while matching the openness he wants from his audience with his own images of unabashed sexuality. As a storyteller with something to say, and an ability to make such expressions accessible to a wider public audience, Henry shows to be a promising filmmaker (as long as he gets rid of those stupid slow fade transitions). His successful Fourplay is a film of larger ideas in the scope of repressed contemporary consciousness, ones that are in need of more discussion; with these resonating tales, Henry proves to be a worthy conversationalist.
Den of Geek Rating 3.5 out of 5