Four Friends (1981): Directed by Arthur Penn

(aka Georgia’s Friends)

Oscar-winning screenwriter Steven Tesich, who scripted the lovely comedy “Breaking Away” and Oscar-nominated director Arthur Penn, who helmed the seminal “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Alice’s Restaurant,” team up for this charming coming-of-age story, set against the prosperity and broken promises and the Vietnam War and its aftermath of the 1960s.

Coming to America from Yugoslavia with big dreams, young Danilo (Craig Wasson) stands before a future of endless possibilities, that is, until he falls in love with Georgia (Jodi Thelen). However, in a reversal of gender, the free-spirited Georgia is a flower child, who loves everyone including Danilo’s two best buddies! For a change, it’s the femme who cannot commit to one man.

Their initially intimate friendships are strained, when Georgia becomes pregnant by one man but and marries another. Hurt and despondent, Danilo begins an angry search for someone to fill the void until their fateful paths cross once again for a last explosive encounter.

Drawing on some personal experiences of scripter Steve Tesich, the film is too episodic, and some conservative film critics and viewers had reservation about the morality of the fable, sort of a mnage a quatre. We seem to be willing to accept threesomes (that uniquely French notion of mnage a trios), but have problems when the concept strikes home in our more puritanical society.

Others could feel much for the character of Georgia, a conflicted modernist heroine seldom seen on our screen, with all her dilemma, confusions, and sexual attractions. Once again, a double bias was manifestthere’s no doubt that is a young desirable make were at the center of this communal romance, audiences would have reacted differently.

As he showed in his other zeitgeist films, the successful and popular “Bonnie and Clyde” and the well-received but commercial flop “Alice’s Restaurant,” Penn was one of the few major American directors to attempt for a new kind of film dealing with the various issues and dichotomies of the era, such as poverty versus wealth, simplicity of rural collectives versus
Pseudo-sophistication of city life.

Made in 1981, a whole decade after its historical setting, “Four Friends,” like Milos Forman’s equally ambitious epic of the same year, “Ragtime,” failed to find an audience, perhaps for similar reasons.

Credits

MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 115 Minutes

Dirctor: Arthur Penn
Screenplay: Steve Tesich