Mostly tepid, with occasional clouds and a ray or two of sunlight.
That's the temperature all year round in "Four Seasons," written, directed and starred in by Alan Alda. Predictability is not the virtue in drama that it is in climate.
The theme is friendship, and how it becomes weathered through the course of a symbolic year -- to the accompaniment of Vivaldi -- or perhaps whether it can weather a symbolic storm.
Three middle-aged married couples have long been in the habit of taking a vacation together each season, when they spend as much time talking about how they love one another as they do on the seasonal activity. (Spring: eating, summer: boating; fall: visiting children at college winter: skiing.) Then one couple divorces, and the wife is replaced in the group activities, as well as in the husband's life, by an airline stewardess. Her youth and the early stage of their courtship, in contrast to the others' 20-year-plus marriages -- the new couple makes more noise more often in close quarters -- upset the balance of the group.
It's not that the idea is too mild to be dramatic, but that the friendship is. These people are more or less compatible on holidays, indeed a test of tolerance. But friendship implies something more in the way of strong, individual attachments.
And these are not distinguishable individuals: You can tell the characters apart here because the actors -- notably Alda, Carol Burnett, Jack Weston and Sandy Dennis -- look recognizably different and add some clever distinguishing acting touches. But while there's a pleasant amiability among the couples, and within the group -- the basis of those sunny rays of humor -- neither the characters nor the plot suggests anything special enough to inspire a real attachment.
When the one couple divorces, there's no question about which one the group takes custody of -- a sailing trip is planned next, and they need the husband's abilities. Later, when the ex-wife encounters them all accidentally, she timidly complains about having been dropped, and the other wives make social noises about getting together real soon. Obviously, her friendship was only a matter of convenience. For that matter, so is that of her replacement. No matter how much the new partner upsets the group, each keeps repeating how nice she is. They admit resenting her occasionally, but it's supposed to be the better side of their natures that they feel obliged to like her, just because she's there.
Only small talk is permitted. That has charm, as well as realism, and the film's best moments are at the expense of the Alda character, whose leaden openers, such as "Why don't we all say how we feel?" are met with the good sense of "I feel as if I wish you would just shut up." But just when you think that he's there to satirize superficial intimacy, a ripe subject if there ever was one, it turns out that his flaw is that he's "judgmental." The rules of friendship, as defined by the film, require accepting without question any behaviour of a friend, because that's being "accepting" -- so it's wrong to have an opinion or emotional reaction to anything.
Stylistically, the film is all in small talk, too -- those television-perfected moments of everyday life that evoke recognition, rather than curiosity, about human behavior. But there's nothing in their lines or behavior that would make any of them irreplaceable in this sort of friendly group.
The dynamics of a small group tour, from one holidy to the next, hardly represent a friendship for all seasons.
FOUR SEASONS --- At the AMC Carrollton, AMC Skyline, Crofton Cinema, Jenifer Cinema, Roth's Quince Orchard, Roth's Randolph, Roth's Tysons Corner and Springfield Mall