Film review and film summary from the fourth of July (2022)

Joe List, who co-wrote the script, plays the lead role as Jeff. He lives in New York City, is recovering for a few years, has a stable relationship with his girlfriend Beth (Sarah Tollemache, List’s real partner), and is at a time when he feels confident enough to start guiding other people in recovery. But he continues to have recurring nightmares about injuring pedestrians with his car, causing them to flee before he can find out who they are or see how badly they have been injured. Louis CK plays the therapist that Joe tells about this dream. (Do what you want.) Jeff does not like to talk about his family. And he does a lot of refusing to talk about his mother. The subject of his upbringing is a minefield he does not dare enter.

The film takes its sweet time getting to the point where Jeff chases personal catharsis by driving upstate to his hometown in rural Maine to confront his father (Robert Walsh), mother (Paula Plum) and extended family (which includes Nick DiPaolo as uncle and Richard O’Rourke as Jeff’s grandfather). They are a bunch of reactionaries who greet Jeff’s arrival with a stream of random homophobia and other bigotry emotions. Jeff is deeply uncomfortable in their presence, as good as he should be, but he still feels obligated to look them in the eye and force them to examine their role in harming his psyche.

But by that time in the film, we may have already given up hope of seeing a story about family told with insight, wit, and originality. CK and List spend forever and a day on little vignettes about Jeff’s life with Beth (which is bland) and his recovery group, and there are scenes that explore his work as a live musician that contribute nothing to our understanding of the characters ( although it’s nice to see live jazz performed for a long time on screen, even if the piano forgery is obvious).

Once Jeff gets upstate, the film production’s dull self-indulgence continues, with the filmmakers indulging in meaninglessly picky editing (especially during piano scenes) and expressionist lighting (green means anxiety or something). These and other film-making tools (including the widescreen images) seem to enrich a thin story that clearly meant a lot to the people who wrote it. But the sum of “Fourth of July” has the same effect on the viewer as being caught up in a party with a sweet but boring person who decides to tell you their whole life story without even asking for your name.

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