2013, NR, 80 min. Directed by Kyle Henry. Starring Sara Sevigny, Amy Jean Johnson, Danielle Rene, Atticus Rowe, Jose Villarreal, Paul Soileau, Gary Chason, Cyndi Williams.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 8, 2013

Kyle Henry’s Fourplay strings together four short films united by their unabashed explorations of sexual intimacy. Often funny, sometimes poignant, always unconventional, the films all differ in tone, mood, and milieu. Although graphic sexual frankness is an element in all four films, the stories share dramatic objectives and subversive narrative content, which allow them to exist in a realm that is neither pornographic nor prurient.

The four segments are named for the cities in which they take place: “Skokie,” “Austin,” “Tampa,” and “San Francisco.” Yet most of the interiors were filmed in Austin, where Henry (University, Inc., American Cowboy) had been based prior to his recent move to Chicago. Three of the segments were written by Carlos Treviño – a staple of the Austin theatre community as a director and playwright – while the first short, “Skokie,” was written by Jessica Hedrick. The sexual orientations of the films range from homosexual to heterosexual to bestial to imaginary. The content is more erotic and suggestive than lewd and graphic, although there’s no mistaking the fact that sexual transgression is the subject at hand. The shorts build in emotional depth to the concluding segment, “San Francisco,” which provides the film’s heartrending climax.

The opening credits – which present in rapid succession a host of pornographic art images through the ages set to music by Bach and Brahms as performed by the Swingle Singers – set the playful yet grounded tone of the film. (Here, as all throughout Fourplay, the music is well-chosen to augment the material.) The first short, “Skokie,” is a suburban reverie about a woman whose crush on another woman in her church choir rises to an unimagined level when she house-sits her object of affection’s dog. Unexpectedly hilarious, “Skokie” is a simple although outré idea, well-executed and performed by Sara Sevigny. The second short is “Austin,” a darker and more complex story about a heterosexual couple (Danielle Rene and Atticus Rowe) trying to decide whether the time is right to have a baby. It’s a story that leads down the twisty corridors of a XXX bookstore and the pliant chambers of the human heart.

The mood turns comic in the third short, “Tampa,” which stars Jose Villarreal as a gay man whose fantasies take over when he fails to hustle a sex partner at a beautifully appointed public restroom. Each character that steps up to the urinal grows more outrageous than the last until the facility is populated by a madcap array of cultural figures who might have stepped off the Sgt. Pepper album cover. The grand fantasy ends in blasphemous fashion with a truly sacrilegious money shot. The final short, “San Francisco,” is a gem of a story about human contact, which stars Paul Soileau and Gary Chason. It’s a tale that resembles last year’s film sensation The Sessions, but with a more haunting and provocative air. Both “Tampa” and “San Francisco” are strong enough to stand on their own and, indeed, have played at festivals from Cannes to Sundance in that capacity.

I’m certain that the Skinemax channels have wishfully entered Kyle Henry and Carlos Treviño’s numbers into their speed dials, but these two would be wise to reject the calls. Their smart and funny film shows they know that sexuality encompasses so much more than physical flesh and bone.

See "Gang of Four," Feb. 8, for more on the film.

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Fourplay, Kyle Henry, Sara Sevigny, Amy Jean Johnson, Danielle Rene, Atticus Rowe, Jose Villarreal, Paul Soileau, Gary Chason, Cyndi Williams

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