By Jeff Walsh
"A Four Letter Word" is a new gay independent comedy playing select theaters (check their website for the release schedule) and, while I didn't hate it, it certainly seemed like it lacked the cohesion that could have made it a better, more enjoyable movie.
But, let's start with the basics. Luke is a sex-friendly, quick-witted hottie who wakes up after a night of bar-hopping in a pile of naked strangers -- clearly not the first time this has happened. He works at Gayborhood, a sex store in NYC's gay Chelsea district with his co-worker Zeke. Luke is a free spirit who happens to meet Stephen, who challenges him to question whether he really could give up his life of random sex with strangers and settle down. There is also a cute young interracial couple, Peter and Derek, who are making the big transition of moving in together. On top of that, Peter's boss, Marilyn, is engaged and maniacally planning her wedding.
Those are the stories in a nutshell. If you don't quite see the relationships linking the first three characters to the latter three, I didn't either and I saw the movie twice. There are some scenes where you see them all interact, but even then they never gel as being all one large group of friends. They're just funny lesser stories to cut to in between telling Luke's story.
The movie tried to have it both ways. Luke is a complete stereotype, but then Zeke calls him on being a complete stereotype, which just seems strange to me. Zeke was my favorite character in the movie, since he is clearly the voice of reason throughout most of it, although for all of his talk about not being a cliché, he also works in a dildo store in the gayborhood. So, yeah, there is that.
It sounds like I'm being hard on the movie, but I think the ability to find story holes and character inconsistencies in a comedy is telling. It means there are too many gaps where I'm not laughing to sort these things out. Had I been laughing the whole time, I'd happily gloss over such things and have many times in the past.
If anything, the movie is possibly a victim of its ambition. It wants to be a sex comedy, so it has those moments. But they also want to explore important issues such as relationships and intimacy, but then keep switching back to add the laughs to the party. And then there's the aforementioned cuts to other story lines, which tell stories of relationships and intimacy, but never feel integrated into the whole of the movie.
To be fair, though, the movie is unabashedly gay, loves showing off the naked bodies of its cast (and you'll probably like looking), and it'd certainly be a fun night out with a group of friends in a theater full of gays shouting back at the screen. I just think it lacks the connective tissue that could have elevated it to be a larger work. I think the cast all did a great job with what they were given, and it looks fine.
But I think it would be wrong to judge "A Four Letter Word" differently than, say, "Iron Man." If anything, I go into a gay comedy with high, albeit simple expectations: make me laugh. Do that, and you win my heart. I am predisposed to liking it. Fall short, and there isn't much to fall back on.
Because, for me, plot is a very important four-letter word.