Saturday, 9 April 2011

The Four-Faced Liar (Jacob Chase, 2010) DVD Review

Lives intertwine and relationships emerge in The Four-Faced Liar (2010)

Molly (Emily Peck) and Greg (Daniel Carlisle) are a seemingly perfect couple newly arriving in New York ("it doesn't look like in the movies.") Bridget (Marja Lewis Ryan) and Trip (Todd Kubrak) are platonic friends; she's a lesbian, and he's in a rocky relationship with Chloe (Liz Osborn). One night they all meet in the titular pub The Four-Faced Liar, named after a clock in Ireland which has four faces all of which tell the wrong time. Of course, it's also a metaphor for the way in which the central foursome forge their relationships. Over a couple of drinks they play a game of 'Never Have I Ever' (you know the one) and casually flirt. From the get-go this relationship drama is predictable fare and, re-adapted from Ryan's stage play of the same name, quite theatrical - by which I mean it's not especially cinematic in scope, and the film feels very well blocked. At the same time, unlike a film such as Closer (Nichols, 2004), it feels like it's trying to stray away from the stage. The shot compositions feel borderline adventurous - shot-reverse-shot alters perception on conversations - but it never quite steps into the realm of cinema. After the fourth musical montage you just get the feeling that it's fallen into trite simplicity through trying too hard. One sequence, at a New Year's party, employs all the tools of cinema - edited to the sound of a ticking clock it culminates in a slow motion juxtaposition between characters. It's a great moment, and one which couldn't be choreographed to quite the same effect on the stage. Shame it's such a standalone sequence.

Movies about same-sex relationships are thin on the ground, especially in the mainstream, so it should be celebrated when one comes along. The last proper same-sex drama I remember seeing (Gregg Araki doesn't count, his movies are a free-for-all) is the excellent My Summer Of Love (Pawlikowski, 2004), but that's a long time ago now. Something else that's thin on the ground right now are genuinely likable rom-coms; movies which are authentic and honest about their feelings. Movies which are sweet and good natured. In this sense Ryan has formed one of the better rom-coms of recent years but some character inconsistencies, plot contrivances and general predictability prevent the film from being truly great. It just feels... tired. I'll give you some examples, but first I would like to comment that the dialogue in the screenplay is the strongest aspect of the film and the characters are all well written. They each have an individual voice with personal traits and idiosyncrasies established early on. Bridget sits on the toilet reading Wuthering Heights, tapping ash into the bath. Greg gets up in the middle of the night and smiles at the noise of New York... now it sounds like the movies, and he's pleased. Individual moments in The Four-Faced Liar are wonderful, because they belong to the characters. But too many moments are ripped from the pages of Screenwriter 101. For example...

It is required, in order for Bridget and Molly to come together, that the two male protagonists bust up their relationships about halfway through the film. Greg gets drunk and tries to force Molly into sex, which seems totally out of character for the nice guy - who up until this point has been intentionally drab and ordinary, and quite rigid in his sex life. Even worse is the decision to make Trip cheat on Chloe, which made me lose faith in his character altogether. Trip is many things - unreliable, commitment phobic, lazy - but a cheat is not one of them. These don't feel like genuine character moments, they feel like dramatic constructions, and you can almost hear the plot gears shifting. The sex scenes are really oddly dark too, and not in terms of lighting. There's a bleak intensity to them, and a level of threat. It's quite disconcerting, and I found myself asking "where did this come from?"

But like I said, The Four-Faced Liar is overall a very sweet film which has many qualities to admire. The characters are realistically flawed, but endearing and likable. They make mistakes, as we all do, but they have chemistry and warmth. As a character piece I'd recommend the film, but there's nothing here that you haven't seen before and its origins on the stage are obvious. It's not like I wanted The Four-Faced Liar to be a Bertolucci movie. I just wish it had embraced one style and run with it. That would have made the film a lot better...

The Four-Faced Liar hits DVD on April 11th.

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