Movie Review: Fourplay
Austin360.com | Austin American-Statesman
Moviegoers used to seeing sexual intimacy rendered on the big screen in the form of hot bodies positioned perfectly and elegant soliloquies of love delivered with dramatic flair are going to be in for quite a shock when they see director Kyle Henry’s "Fourplay." You’ll probably be in for a shock at one point or another during the film regardless of what you expect.
Four shorts make up the omnibus film from the former Austinite and University of Texas alumnus. While all four have different tones, the movies share a common theme: They explore our need to connect, to be wanted, to be fulfilled and the bravery and vulnerability required to step into the unknown and achieve those desires.
Two of the movies use a sense of humor to play with the audience’s notions of deviancy, while the other two take a more realistic and natural approach to their subjects. Jessica Hedrick wrote the film’s first short, "Skokie," the only one of the four not written by Henry’s longtime partner Carlos Treviño.
Sara Sevigny, in a performance that may remind some of Melissa McCarthy ("Bridesmaids"), plays Gail, a closeted lesbian who sings in the church choir while harboring a crush on the minister’s wife, Marcy (Amy Jean Johnson). In a flailing attempt to get closer to Marcy, Gail offers to pet-sit for the buttoned-up couple.
The tale starts out with the very placid setting of a church, putting viewers at ease before knocking them off their feet. As she fantasizes about the absent Marcy, Gail finds romantic reciprocation from the dog, which serves as a love surrogate. Despite the funny yet horribly unsettling idea of bestiality (heightened by extreme close-ups), Sevigny imbues Gail with a sweetness and neediness that make her a sympathetic character.
"Skokie" carries traces of the comedic darkness found in the work of Todd Solondz ("Happiness"), as we watch just how far someone will go to feel loved. Despite Gail’s base instincts, we end up rooting for her happiness, and somehow find a way to avoid judging her.
Lily (Danielle Rene) and Kai (Atticus Rowe), the couple in "Austin," live together, but they, too, feel a sense of isolation. When Lily briefly misleads Kai into thinking she is pregnant, it becomes clear that she is feeling a sense of frustration with their stalled romantic life. Lily wants to feel something again, which leads to a last-gasp foray into fantasy in hopes of rekindling a spark. Rene delivers a captivating performance, drifting from frustrated to alluring, wounded to sensual, in a matter of fluid minutes.
The realism of "Austin" gives way to the screwball farce "Tampa." Anyone without an open mind and a high comfort level with male nudity (and replicated male nudity), beware: This short film is extremely graphic in nature in ways that I won’t go into here. Think Charlie Chaplin meets satirical gay sex spoof.
Chubby god-fearing Luis (Jose Villarreal) makes his way into a Florida shopping mall where his latent curiosities about homosexuality are piqued when he encounters a willing partner. But once that Pandora’s Box is pried open, a cast of characters comes streaming into the scene: from Groucho Marx to a priest and a man in Hitler costume.
"Tampa" features swift edits and steady action that keeps surprising the audience at every turn, each outlandish shot trying to one-up the previous one. The film plays with notions of curiosity and tests the comfort level not just of the main character but also the audience.
Before the laughter and guffawing from "Tampa" ends, "Fourplay" eases into its moving final act. In "San Francisco," transvestite sex worker Aliya (Paul Soileau, who has made a name for himself playing the celebrated drag queen Christeene), provides her services to Tom (Gary Chason), a quadriplegic who can only communicate by blinking his eyes. Tom’s wife, Anne (Austinite Cyndi Williams), has hired Aliya to provide sexual comfort to her ailing husband.
Aliya tries to use her sultry sexuality to seduce the bed-ridden man before realizing that the job will require a different set of tools. Recalibrating her approach, Aliya resorts to alternative methods and in the process awakens something deep inside herself.
"San Francisco" has a haunting, quiet beauty, backed by a moving score, and Soileau brings a startling tenderness to a character full of nuance and depth of spirit. The final shot of the short and, in turn, the film, simmers with ache and a melancholic hope.
"Fourplay" will likely ruffle the feathers of more conservative audiences, but Kyle Henry’s movie offers a unique and bold look at the complications of desire, the need for connection and the joys and perils of sexual intimacy. The director shows amazing dexterity in shifting between silly and serious tones. Henry and his writers have created a cast of sympathetic characters who find the courage to be vulnerable in a world not always willing to offer an embrace. "Fourplay" is crass, unapologetic, imaginative, challenging and, ultimately, comforting.