Four of Hearts (Eric Haywood, 2013)
First off: while I don’t necessarily consider talking about the content of a character’s character to be a spoiler for a movie, there are those who might. As such, this review can be considered to have spoilers. Proceed with caution.
Getting involved in the swinging lifestyle is not an impulse decision. It’s something to be considered, discussed to death with your partner, read up on extensively. Probably talked about with a therapist. (That link, and the podcast it points to, is more about poly than swinging, but the concerns overlap a good deal. And I wish that recording had existed back when my ex-wife and I started exploring in that regard some years ago.) Or, well, let me rephrase that: getting involved in the swinging lifestyle shouldn’t be an impulse decision. All too often, it is, and inevitably there is fallout. A movie that examines the rashness of such a decision and the following fallout without judgment, made by someone who’s been there and weathered all the storms, would be a welcome thing in the extreme. Four of Hearts is, absolutely and positively, not that movie. In fact, it pretty much goes the other way—it perpetuates horrible stereotypes, is written by someone who is obviously staunchly grounded in heteronormative monogamy as the “only” way to achieve a successful relationship, and instead of coming off as a serious, sensitive examination of a growing trend in ethical non-monogamy, comes off as a dangerous, offensive screed against the idea that it’s possible to be married, non-monogamous, honest, and still happy.
I pretty much covered the plot in that opening paragraph, but just to make it blatant, and because the second paragraph of almost every review I write is a plot synopsis, here you go: Derrick (Stomp the Yard’s Darrin Dewitt Henson) and April (Tropic Thunder’s Nadine Ellis) are a couple who are not yet successful, but definitely on their way there. Problem is, both of them are so busy they don’t have time for each other; in the opening scene, as they’re going to look at a house, April is poking Jordan with the fact that they haven’t had sex in six months. Their downstairs neighbors, Jordan (Passions’ Charles Divins) and Christy (The Invitation’s Michelle Krusiec), have an alternative sort of marriage, and don’t really keep that much of a secret, especially since April is Christy’s best friend. April hatches a plan to get some spice back in her sex life with Derrick: a one-time foursome with Jordan and Christy. The plan comes to fruition. Complications ensue.
Where do I even start with the problems in this movie? April is the only person who comes at things with a level head, which makes zero sense since Jordan and Christy have supposedly been living this lifestyle—and about what sort of lifestyle it is there is some confusion, since April, in a conversation with Jordan, refers to it as an open marriage (and mentions a detail consistent with that diagnosis), but everything that we actually see, as well as a number of conversations between Jordan and Christy, point to them as swingers who only play together; this is exactly the opposite of an open marriage, and that’s the sort of conflation that would only be made by someone who’s never been involved in either situation—for enough time to have established codes of conduct, routines, etc. This is also where the fallout starts making little sense. If Jordan and Christy have gone down that road at all successfully, they have to have a track record of openness and honesty. That makes Jordan’s actions in the second half of the movie befuddling in the extreme, because yes, it’s the supposedly “enlightened” male in this foursome who suddenly starts behaving in a way that threatens to bring everyone’s world crashing down around them. This is utterly senseless.
Jordan and Derrick both also perpetuate the movie’s worst stereotype, one anyone interested can see
anywhere they like where swingers have a tendency to congregate, though not to the exaggerated degree found in the movie. It’s prevalent enough that I simply call them “the assholes.” This is the couple with the straight male who insists on having a bisexual mate so he can watch her with other women/enjoy FFM threesomes, but who never thinks to ask whether the person he’s with is interested in things going the other way. It’s shocking and saddening how much I see this IRL. In the movie, it makes sense for Derrick to behave this way; he is a reluctant participant throughout, and while he enjoys the act itself, his emotional fallout, while exaggerated, makes sense within the confines of the movie. (Another annoyance: just at the point where Derrick should really have become the film’s main character, he is relegated to minor status so Haywood can concentrate on Jordan attempting to seduce April.) Derrick, on the other hand, if this movie is going to be any reasonable exploration of the topic, should at least be open-minded enough to discuss how his wife enjoyed the evening. But nope, he doesn’t want to talk about thing one when it comes to his wife sleeping with someone else—even when he was right next to her and probably got more than ample evidence with his own eyes and ears. And, of course, the guys can’t even touch accidentally. If you think about four people, one bed, and the hijinks that are probably going to be gotten up to in such a situation, the anatomical gyrations everyone would have to go through to make sure the guys don’t touch will make your head explode.
I’ve alluded to it above a couple of times, but just to put it out there explicitly: this is a romance film. I get the idea that Haywood, who also wrote, started with the idea that if he had four people in a relationship instead of two, he’d have more possible permutations for a generic romance script, as well as more possible red herrings. But, well, if you know how normal romances go…
And to top it all off, might as well tack on a sitcom ending. You know the type: after all the earth-shaking that’s gone on, things that should change the people involved forever, everyone just goes right back to the way they were at the beginning after a couple of moments of revelation. Hooray. Granted, there was no way this was getting a zero even before the ending, but that was just the decaying cherry on a spoiled, fetid sundae likely to poison anyone brave enough to attempt a taste. (zero)
If you have the testicular fortitude to brave these waters, here’s a trailer: