'Fourplay': Film Review

Well acted but gimmicky.
3/30/2018

Two married couples deal with personal issues during Sunday brunch in Dean Matthew Ronalds' drama, shot in a single take.

If you've ever spent a Sunday afternoon brunch at a friend's apartment from which you desperately want to escape, you'll get a strange sense of déjà vu watching Dean Matthew Ronalds' low-budget drama. Depicting such an event taking place in a Brooklyn apartment (we know that because of the terrific views seen from the window) involving two married couples, Fourplay comes across as a claustrophobic cinematic exercise.

I say "exercise" because, as if aware that the screenplay he scripted along with Emanuela Galliusi (one of the film's stars) and Francesco Plazza was desperately thin, Ronalds shot the 77-minute film in a single take. It's also photographed in widescreen black-and-white, neither of which particularly suits the material. That the pic was shot in this manner won't be particularly noticeable to anyone who wasn't previously aware of it, except for the occasional minor technical stumble. What it's supposed to add to the viewer's experience, other than showing off the obvious hard work that went into making it possible, is anyone's guess.

What transpires bears no resemblance to the dazzling opening sequence of Touch of Evil or Birdman (which used technical tricks to create a similar effect but was nonetheless virtuosic). Rather, this is an intimate drama where we're supposed to be appreciating the characterizations and dialogue, not worry about whether the camera is going to bump into anything. We wind up spending more time thinking about how many attempts it took to get the thing done than what we're seeing onscreen.

A quartet of fine actors (Tammy Blanchard, Bryan Greenberg, Dominic Fumasa and Galliussi) enact the drama clearly influenced by Cassavetes. The story begins with Anna (Blanchard), a high-strung restaurant owner, discovering that she's pregnant. For reasons that don't become clear until later, she doesn't tell her husband Tom (Greenberg) the news before the arrival of their friends Joe (Fumasa) and his spiritual-minded spouse Susan (Galliussi).

Nearly half the running time is taken up by banal rambling conversations about such topics as their recurring dreams (hearing about someone else's dreams is usually excruciatingly boring in real life, and no less so here), occasionally interrupted by even less riveting moments as when they engage in some arm wrestling. And then all hell breaks loose with dramatic revelations about (spoiler alert) infidelity — no, make that infidelities, which result in the sort of predictable, angrily shouted exchanges that only accentuate the stilted theatricality of the proceedings.

You all too vividly feel the strenuous efforts of everyone involved, from the actors struggling to bring life to their one-note characters while hitting all their marks to the cinematographer keeping his camera aimed exactly where it's supposed to be. By the time the seemingly endless brunch depicted in Fourplay is over, you'll be in need of a stiff Bloody Mary yourself.

Production company: Falling Up Films
Distributor: Parade Deck Films
Cast: Tammy Blanchard, Bryan Greenberg, Dominic Fumuasa, Emanuela Galliussi
Director: Dean Matthew Ronalds
Screenwriters: Dean Matthew Ronalds, Emanuela Galliussi, Francesco Plazza
Producers: Jamie Dolan, Emanuela Galliussi, Dean Matthew Ronalds
Executive producers: Kevin Berman, Romina Caruana, Chris Eyre, Scott Stowe, Mimi Tales
Director of photography: Adam D. Ouellette

77 minutes