Box-Office Alternatives: The Four Seasons

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It seems the time is upon us once more for another Nicholas Sparks adaptation. The master of the sentimental once again sees another one of his novels featuring lovesick characters overcoming the complexities of life translated to the big screen with The Longest Ride (2015). The story depicts two different small-town romances (one from the past, the other from the present), which share life-altering links.

If there's one thing a movie based on a Nicholas Sparks novel does very well, it's giving seasoned pros plum roles to sink their teeth into and remind fans what exactly made them legends. Paul Newman, James Garner and Gena Rowlands all enjoyed scene-stealing parts in Sparks adaptations that earned them raves, even if the films themselves floundered.

Alan Alda fills that category this time around, playing a bedridden man with regrets over his past. With so few film appearances these days, Alda's performance just might be reason enough to catch The Longest Ride. In any case, it gives me the perfect excuse to write about my favorite Alan Alda movie, The Four Seasons (1981).

Written and directed by Alda, The Four Seasons follows three married couples as they share their vacations, and lives, together. When one couple suddenly announces the end of their marriage, the others begin to question their own relationships as well -- and their futures -- as the seasons change.

The main concern with any ensemble film is to make sure each character onscreen is a unique individual with enough features to make them stand out, yet not outshine anyone else. In his first screenplay, Alda avoided that pitfall by crafting an assortment of characters who exist as real people full of fears, quirks and philosophies on life that echo an aging generation entering a new decade. Issues surface such as divorce, hypochondria, depression hidden desires, unfulfilled ambitions and other problems from the everyday midlife crisis. Yet Alda's talent allows him to tackle these issues in prime comedic form with laughs that are always honest and organic.

On the surface, the most rewarding pleasure to be had in watching The Four Seasons is the joy in seeing the extremely diverse cast (which also includes Carol Burnett, Sandy Dennis, Len Cariou and Rita Moreno) inhabit the screen with their wildly different acting styles. Burnett in particular is amazing in what is definitely her best onscreen role as Alda's wife, who is frustrated at her husband's constant questioning of the state of their lives. The scene in their hotel room when Burnett loses it after having had enough of her husband's neuroses is priceless in both its comedy and its truthfulness.

Frustrating as it is, it's that questioning of a person's life and his/her choices that's really the true core of The Four Seasons. Ultimately, this is film about looking at those you have considered your confidants and realizing all at once that they aren't the people you first encountered years earlier. For better or worse, they've changed. How and why that's happened, whether or not the same changes have occurred in you, and what it means for the future, are all questions that transcend eras and generations and remain with the audience long after the movie's end.

The Four Seasons belongs to that special genre of films that were hits when they first came out, yet have fallen by the wayside on the road to attaining "classic" status. The film received stellar reviews upon its theatrical release, became one of the most profitable titles of the year and even spawned a short-lived sitcom of the same name, despite being almost forgotten today. Instead, the film remains an interesting footnote within the filmographies of its stars.

Alda would go on to write, direct and star in three more films before the decade's end. While each provided an interesting take on various aspects of the everyday, none would enjoy the success of The Four Seasons or tell a story about the universal hangups of life in such an intelligent and funny way.

Where to watch: The Four Seasons is currently available on DVD and you can rent it locally from Vulcan Video.