Monday, November 2, 2015

#1,904. The Four Seasons (1981)

Directed By: Alan Alda

Starring: Alan Alda, Carol Burnett, Len Cariou

Tag line: "Here's to our friends... and the strength to put up with them"

Trivia: This movie was the second of six collaborations between actor Alan Alda and producer Martin Bregman

It seems silly now, but there was a time when I was embarrassed by how much I loved writer / director Alan Alda’s The Four Seasons.  A comedy / drama with just a touch of romance, it wasn’t the type of film my teenage self normally had the patience for, and yet whenever it was playing on HBO, I would sit down and watch it.

I enjoyed the comedy, of course, but The Four Seasons also had plenty to say about marriage and friendship, and even though I was decades away from understanding its various issues and dilemmas, it always felt like an honest portrayal of what it must be like to spend half your life with the same person.

Three New York couples: Jack (Alda) and Kate Burroughs (Carol Burnett); Nick (Len Cariou) and Anne Callan (Sandy Dennis); and Danny (Jack Weston) and Claudia Zimmer (Rita Moreno), have been vacationing together for years, during which time they’ve grown very close. Then, one spring, Nick makes the shocking announcement that, after 21 years of marriage, he plans to divorce Anne and start a new life. 

By the time summer rolls around, Nick is dating Ginny Newley (Bess Armstrong), a pretty blonde who is half his age. This sudden change in their group’s dynamic causes the other couples to re-examine their own relationships, with both their significant others and the friends they have grown to love. The friction that results from such analysis will, over the course of the next 6 months, either draw them closer together or tear them apart once and for all. 

As its title suggests, the movie features four distinct segments, each set during a different season. It’s while the group is vacationing in the spring that Nick drops his bombshell, and all at once, Annie is out of the picture, replaced by the kindly but somewhat naïve Ginny, who tags along as Nick and the others spend a fair portion of their summer sailing the Caribbean. 

In the fall, the couples visit their kids in college, and while Jack's and Kate’s daughter Beth (Elizabeth Alda) is as full of life as ever, Nick’s daughter Lisa (Beatrice Alda) is having a hard time dealing with her parent’s failed marriage. Come the winter, the six main characters are shacked up in a ski lodge, at which point all the hurt and resentment that has been simmering for months finally bubbles to the surface. 

Alda does a fine job building the film's characters and their relationships, which ebb and flow in conjunction with the seasons (spring=change, summer=adjustment, etc), yet what ultimately makes The Four Seasons such a moving experience is its cast of characters, all played by actors and actresses at the top of their game.

We come to know each of them almost as well as they know one another. Alda’s Jack, a lawyer by trade, is a thinker, a guy who asks probing questions just so he can answer them. He loves Kate, and the two are very happy together, but he can't help but feel a little jealous of Nick’s relationship with the much younger Ginny. Kate, played wonderfully by Carol Burnett, is the editor of Fortune magazine and the planner of the group, organizing their various vacations months in advance. Yet despite her strong marriage to Jack, she worries that, one day, she’ll end up like Anne, and find herself all alone. From the get-go, it’s obvious that Cariou’s Nick is in the throes of a mid-life crisis, yet while he is the catalyst for much of the group’s turmoil, his actions ultimately result in him finding his soulmate. 

Though we don’t get to know her as well as the others, Dennis’ Anne does, in her few scenes, come across as a bit stifled (a photographer, she has spent the last three years photographing vegetables, and balks at an offer from Kate to take pictures that will appear in Fortune). Ginny, the new woman in Nick’s life, is the exact opposite of Anne: vibrant and fun-loving, you can’t help but fall in love with her, and even though it was her big screen debut, Armstrong is absolutely wonderful in the part. 

Rounding out the group is Jack Weston’s Danny, a dentist who is also a hypochondriac; and Rita Moreno’s Claudia, a hot-blooded Italian who always speaks her mind. Weston and Moreno are the source for a good deal of the film’s comedy, yet in the end, they're every bit as worried, as insecure, and as real as the others.

Revisiting the film now, when I’m close to the same age as its main characters, allowed me to see The Four Seasons in a completely different light, and while I can’t say I have much in common with any of its protagonists, I understand them more now than I did in the'80s. I am also no longer ashamed to admit I’m a big fan of this film, which, with its honest, heartfelt look at the nature of relationships, will most likely never grow old.

1 comment:

James Robert Smith said...

I have always liked this film. It's a nice look at middle-aged, middle-class American angst. Petty problems and a pampered lifestyle. It's a good snapshot of the times for that thin layer of Americans who live just under the line of the very rich. As a member of the poor working class of the US, I could never completely identify with these spoiled assholes, but the movie is still fun to watch for me.

Also, I have always been a fan of Sandy Dennis. Her role in this movie is almost like her career at that time. The world had all but forgotten about her and she had become inconsequential within the industry. So the producers threw her a bone.