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Movie Review: Four Letter Words

By Mike Everleth ⋅ June 13, 2000

Four Letter Words DVD cover

(Ed. note: This review of the film FOUR LETTER WORDS was written after it was screened under its working title, CLIMAX, at the Anthology Film Archives in NYC and is thus referred to as CLIMAX in the body of the review.)

Though I’ve never gone very far, I have moved around quite a bit and in so doing have lost track of most people I’ve ever known. I’m not good at long-distance friendships. Hell, I’m not that wonderful at short-distance friendships for that matter.

This trend started when I went away to college, which though still in the same time zone was a good distance from where I grew up (upstate NY vs. southern New Jersey). I didn’t really keep up with my high school friends while I was off trying to make new college ones. But there was one summer I hung out with the old gang again. I think an old friend invited me to a party on a whim.

It was kinda strange. I’m not sure how well they had all kept up with each other in my absence. It seemed we were all off doing our own things. Some of them were like me, off far away at college. Others had stuck to home. And while we reminisced about the past, we didn’t seem to be connecting towards the future. That was my perception anyway. I lost track of all of them again pretty quickly. Maybe I’m just a dick.

CLIMAX is full of dicks. It was a first feature-length movie made by a recent NYU film school grad, Sean Baker, and it was a good idea for a no-budget flick by an aspiring filmmaker. The entire movie takes place over the course of one night, primarily in one location. A group of high school graduates have gotten together for a reunion party at one of their classmate’s homes. CLIMAX isn’t a party picture, though. The film starts at about 3 AM after most people have gone home. The only ones still at the house drinking the last remnants of the mostly foamy beer left in the keg are a group of about a half-dozen or so guys.

I’m not much of a “guy” guy, either, and I tend to prefer hanging out with chicks. This is what’s really good about CLIMAX: It gets the “guy” dialogue just right. If women really want to know what men are like when they’re hanging out with no girls present, they should watch this movie. I’m not saying all guys are as sex-obsessed and obnoxious as the ones in CLIMAX, but every guy has had a night and conversations like this at some time in their lives.

But then again, that’s what I couldn’t stand about CLIMAX. This is an odd criticism to make of a film, but it was too dead on. I wouldn’t want to hang out with any of the guys in this movie. Yet, here I am having paid good money to watch people who in real life I have spent considerable energy avoiding. It was almost like being trapped in one of my worst nightmares.

While I don’t think there was a line of dialogue in this film that struck me as false or untrue, I also kind of wish Sean had given CLIMAX a little bit more of a plot. Essentially, the movie is just guys hanging out. I’m pretty sure most of the film was improvised by the actors, but if Sean had tried to sell this as a script I don’t think he would have ever gotten anybody to produce it. “Where are the characters ‘arcs’?” I hear the Hollywood development people asking him (a refrain I’ve heard often trying to sell my own scripts). I mean, it’s good the movie doesn’t cheese out and get sentimental or sappy, which would have been an easy pit of crap to fall into.

I guess what I’m saying is: Can a movie be too realistic sometimes? Is that a bad thing? I found CLIMAX to be unpleasant (in a certain regard), a little boring and meandering at times and somewhat pointless. But, that’s life I guess. I don’t want to come off sounding like CLIMAX isn’t worth watching. It certainly is. And while I couldn’t say it’s a “controversial” movie, it is one that inspires a reaction. Sean was at the screening and he said the film is going to be making “the festival rounds” soon, so if you happen to see it playing check it out. I wish Sean the best of luck.

And one last thing, I was grateful for CLIMAX to introducing me to the “Yearbook Yank”. That’s when guys masturbate to pictures of girls in their high school yearbook they couldn’t get in real life. Not something I’ve indulged in myself, nor have I ever heard anybody cop to this, but it sounds like an interesting concept. Man, guys are just totally sick!

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