The Four Seasons (1981)
Alan Alda's feature film debut as a filmmaker evolves around those traditional human values that have always occupied him: relationships, psychology and human emotion. The film opens with both a nice premise and a delicate structure, as Alda backdrops his story of three 40-something couples who experience ups and downs through a series of collective vacations against Vivaldi's wonderful "The Four Seasons".
The film is good-hearted, and during the first half also poignant and funny. We're getting to know three couples whose closeness and joie de vivre is amiable infectious. This is Alda at his best - simple and sincere, and not afraid of embracing life. Then the film shifts in tone, as one of Alda's friends breaks the pattern and forces all of the friends to rethink their situations. The friends' next vacation - on a sailboat - represents the films best part, as the different characters crystalize, and Alda's script is crisp and insightful.
Unfortunately, Alda can't keep it up. The second part of the film has some serious flaws - mostly to do with uneven writing. The acting is fine throughout, but the skilful performers can only do so much with a script that makes them progressively less individual and more identical. Our six protagonists take turns throwing fits in one moment and squaring up the next, while constantly over-analyzing the surface but rarely touching something deep. As a result, the film wears out its characters and the characters wear us out. Like Woody Allen at his weakest, Alda doesn't know how to make his characters shut up, as he desperately wants them to talk their way out of their and his problems.
That is not to say that The Four Seasons can't be enjoyed. This is the sort of film that if you recognise yourself in the setting, you might be able to draw inspiration from these people's shortcomings. Like with most of Alda's work, his intention is to be uplifting and optimistic, and that quality shouldn't be undermined in films like this. The implicit pleasantness which runs through it makes The Four Seasons impossible to dislike. It's just that you'd want it to succeed more than it does in all its analyses, and thus be a little less like its lead character.