“Fourth of July“, a drama about an alcoholic jazz musician who confronts his parents during a holiday gathering, is the sort of independent film that isn’t made much anymore, with good cause. The project represents Louis C.K.’s comeback attempt in some ways; his career was shaken in 2017 when he was accused of (and confessed to) sexual misconduct actions including masturbating and undressing in front of women he worked with.Albee’s career was dramatically altered after this widely panned, divisive movie about a dolorous guy and his repulsive family.
List is the one who co-wrote the screen story, and he plays Jeff. He’s a recovering addict living in New York City who has been with his girlfriend Beth (Sarah Tollemache, List’s real-life partner) for a few years and is ready to start mentoring other individuals in recovery.But he has recurring nightmares in which he kills pedestrians with his car, causing them to flee before he can learn who they are or how badly they’ve been injured. Louis C.K.’s therapist is Joe, whom he discusses his dream with. (Make of it what you will.) Jeff doesn’t enjoy talking about his family. And when it comes to talking about his mother, he makes a point of refusing. He avoids discussing the issue of his childhood for fear of stepping on landmines.
The film takes its sweet time getting to the point where Jeff goes upstate to Maine to confront his father (Robert Walsh), mother (Paula Plum) and extended family (which include Nick Di Paolo as an uncle and Richard O’Rourke as Jeff’s grandfather).They’re a bunch of reactionaries who greet Jeff’s arrival with a deluge of casual prejudice and other bigoted views, making the only Black person at the gathering, Naomi (Tara Pacheco), feel uncomfortable by drawing attention to her race and recent loss. Jeff is unhappy in their presence, as he should be; nevertheless, he feels compelled to confront them so that they may examine their role in harming his mental health.
But we may have already given up hope of seeing a narrative about family told with insight, humor, and originality by that stage in the film. C.K. and List spend an eternity and a day on vignettes regarding Jeff’s life with Beth (which is uninteresting) and his rehabilitation group, as well as sequences depicting his job as a live musician that add nothing to our comprehension of the characters (even if it’s nice to see live jazz performed onscreen for lengthy periods).
The moody self-indulgence of Jeff’s approach to life continues when he reaches the Catskills, with pointlessly fussy cutaway editing (particularly during piano sequences) and expressionistic lighting (green signifies anxiety or something). These and other filmmaking tools (including the widescreen imagery) appear intended to “enrich a thin narrative that clearly meant a lot to the people who wrote it,” but the end result is just as draining for viewers.
Brian Moses has reviewed the book and gives his takes on why it’s a must-read, based on his experience as C.K.’s Key & Peele writer and ADG rep in negotiations. The “Canceled” brand is now used by other stand-ups for similar situations without any apparent legal ramifications or fees (easy money for stand-ups who claim to have been “canceled”).
The film, however, has been accused of being pro-rape and pro-pedophilia. If you take C.K.’s stated goal at face value, the movie looks even more unsavory. This is the sort of earnest but amateurish indie film that a festival’s artistic director would choose with full awareness of its shortcomings because they hope the title of someone connected to the project (in this case, the director) will entice people to buy tickets. Even though no one other than the filmmaker’s family would see it since it lacks such a pedigree, many of them would only pretend to enjoy it.
Now playing on Cinema HD.
Directed by: Louis C.K.
Produced by: Louis C.K.
Starring: Joe List, Sarah Tollemache, Nick Di Paolo, Louis C.K., Paula Plum
Release date: June 30, 2022
Running time: 90 minutes
Country: United States