At the opening of "Four Friends," a young Yugoslavian boy arrives in America, to join a harsh father and live in a working-class environment that's obviously at odds with the sensitivity indicated by his thoughtful, observant silence. This scene should tip off any experienced movie-goer that:
1. The movie will not be about a child, but is starting early in his life in order to show his sexual awakening before getting on with the adult story.
2. His early romantic-sexual experiences will have a profound and lasting effect on him.
3. The girl who had this effect, the harsh father, and perhaps a few other people privileged to be in on his young life did not treat him right, not having realized what a rare and sensitive individual he is.
4. The plot has many superficial things and great emotional things in common with the life of the author.
5. The movie will be dreadful. 6. This does not mean that everything the author does is dreadful. We all have one play in us about having grown up being more sensitive than anyone else, but some of us are lucky enough never to succeed in making it public.
"Four Friends" is written by Steven Tesich, who immigrated to America from Yugoslavia as a boy, and who was properly recognized as a sensitive writer in his first screenplay, "Breaking Away." He follows his hero, played by Craig Wasson, and three childhood friends, through a faddist history of America during the Sixties.
Conformity and hippiedom, Vietnam service and anti-war protests, condemnation of family representing mainstream success, late-developing pride in a family representing the ethnic working class -- it's all in there, jumbled together. The Kennedy assasination appears suddenly, and people are shown jogging on beaches long before that pastime began.
What is unlikely, such as a fashionable wedding in which the father of the bride goes on a shooting rampage motivated by incest, is ludicrous; what is only too likely, such as the dreary way the characters plunge into national fads as if they were doing something highly original, is tiresome.
Let us hope that one sensitive author has gotten all this out of his system.
FOUR FRIENDS -- At the AMC Academy, Beacon Mall, Loehmann's Plaza, NTI Tysons Center, NTI White Flint, West End Circle.