Four on the Fourth
Joe (Wendell Pierce) is a black middle-aged married man, a college professor and he is out on an Internet date with June (Emory Cohen), a white teen male who is coming to terms with his sexuality. Abigayle (Aja Naomi King) is fifteen Joe’s daughter is out with Dexter (EJ Bonilla), an extroverted Latino. The four people will have their realities tested as they begin to intimately know each other in this story of awkwardness and indecision and the search for love.
The two couples seem to be mismatched but the search for love is something all four share even though each goes about it in a different way. We see the problems that they face—the inability to communicate, arrogance, self-loathing, vulnerability and timidity. Here are four very different people trying to understand sex, love, race and responsibility.
Joe has been having a rough time. His wife is seriously ill and he needs some kind of relief. He knows he has feelings for other males but is having a difficult time dealing with them. Abigayle is supposed to be home taking care of her mother as Joe goes to a convention, (at least that he is the excuse he uses to get out of the house). She does not want to be at home and sneaks out with Dexter, her new boyfriend who pretends to be black.
We watch and listen as the characters talk about themselves and their desires and the more they talk the more we learn about what drives each person.
Joe, as the elder partner, and June, as the young teen dealing with his preference for men seem to be the more compelling couple. Joe tries to help him understand himself but June is very nervous and they reach a point when neither man can move. They met online and arranged for a sexual rendezvous but we learn that in their online chat, they hid facts. Joe did not say that he was a married man and June did not tell Joe that gay sex was somewhat new to him. As they speak now, there is still deception since neither will say what he is really looking for.
Dexter is racially mixed and he and Abigayle go to school together. He pressured her to leave the house but she has the responsibility to be with her mother since her father is “at a convention in Boston” and she should be waiting for him to call her. Nonetheless, she agrees to meet Dexter.
As the four pass the evening, they talk about ideas and wishes that could either change them or the evening could just turn out to be another night of desperate searching, something that each has become used to.
The acting is uniformly excellent. Emory Cohen as June is perfect as the high school misfit who is unable to understand the world or himself. Wendell Pierce has a role he can really sink his teeth into and his speech about AIDS is amazing. King is excellent is the sometimes coy, sometimes flirty daughter who really wants to take control of her life and Bonilla is perfect as the conceited hood rat who is in love with Abigayle and has to deal with her rejection at one point.
Yet something just does not gel here even with the fine performances. It seems to me that the pace is a bit slow and the themes are heavy and there is no resolution. I know that resolution is not always necessary but here we have issues that are left hanging and this modern melodrama ultimately says nothing. This could very well be the plan of writer/director Jordan Sanchez who does everything right but to give the film heart. Sanchez based his film on the award-winning off Broadway play of the same name by Christopher Shinn. The brooding atmosphere becomes pervasive as issues of race and sexuality are dealt with and it all becomes very intense.
The dialogue is blunt and we hear about realistic racial hang-ups. We feel the need for love as the characters feel their need for it. With all of the action taking place on a single day and just for a few hours, we feel the sense of self-containment. The meeting with Joe and June is presented less judgmentally than I would have expected because of the criminal nature of the meeting of the two. As they drive around and talk, Joe tries to counsel June about why he is so reluctant to come out to his parents
or to pursue relationships with his peers, and shares hard lessons from his own decades spent as a closeted gay man. I felt very nervous during the sex scene and I suppose that was because of the age differences and the circumstances of their meeting. I could not help but feel a sense of desolation during the entire film and that is a credit to Sanchez.