Review: ‘Fourth of July,’ starring Joe List, Sarah Tollemache, Paula Plum, Robert Walsh, Robert Kelly and Tara Pacheco

July 30, 2022

by Carla Hay

Joe List, an unidentified actress, Nick Di Paolo, Tony Viveiros, Courtland Jones and Tara Pacheco in “Fourth of July” (Photo by courtesy of Circus King Productions)

“Fourth of July”

Directed by Louis C.K. 

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City and in Maine, the comedy/drama film “Fourth of July” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A neurotic jazz musician, who’s a recovering alcoholic, goes to his family’s annual Fourth of July reunion to confront his parents about how he thinks they didn’t show him enough love when he was a child.

Culture Audience: “Fourth of July” will appeal primarily to fans of director/writer/co-star Louis C.K. and anyone who doesn’t mind watching predictable and trite dramedies about obnoxious people.

Paula Plum and Robert Walsh in “Fourth of July” (Photo by courtesy of Circus King Productions)

The comedy/drama “Fourth of July” can’t decide if it wants to be offensively edgy or effectively sentimental, and it ultimately fails at being both. It’s just a boring display of sloppily written clichés about a bickering and dysfunctional family. Louis C.K., who directed and co-wrote “Fourth of July,” is known for his boundary-pushing and intentionally insulting comedy. But in “Fourth of July,” in which he has a small acting role as an incompetent therapist, Louis C.K. seems to be trying too hard to “clean up” his image after damaging his career with #MeToo scandals.

The results are that “Fourth of July” looks like very phony. The movie’s tone shifts drastically from being about a deeply neurotic jazz musician with a lot of personal issues to this protagonist suddenly transforming into a contented self-help guru who gets all warm and fuzzy. All of it is just a tedious slog to watch because most of the characters in the movie are shallow stereotypes.

“Fourth of July” is yet another forgettable movie about a feuding family where the filmmakers think that putting a lot of arguments in the movie will automatically equal an interesting story. But before getting to the family discord, “Fourth of July” takes too long (the first third) showing central character Jeff (played by Joe List, who co-wrote the “Fourth of July” screenplay) in repetitive scenes of Jeff moping around and feeling sorry for himself.

Jeff, who is in his late 30s or early 40s, is a recovering alcoholic who’s been sober for the past three years. He lives in New York City with his wife Beth (played by Sarah Tollemache), who is adoring but insecure about her self-worth. Not much is revealed about this marriage except that Beth wants to start a family, Jeff doesn’t think he has what it takes to be a good parent, and Beth has recently gotten the upsetting news from a doctor that Beth won’t be able to conceive a child (not even through in vitro fertilization) because it’s “too late” for her.

Jeff plays piano in the type of jazz band that can only get gigs playing in small, local bars. Near the beginning of the movie, Jeff is seen driving in his car and suddenly stopping the car and getting out because he’s sure that he hit someone. But nothing is there. Jeff is convinced that he accidentally hit someone with the car and the person walked away.

Jeff is then shown in a session with his unnamed therapist (played by Louis C.K.), who has an obvious prickly relationship with Jeff. The therapist condescendingly tells Jeff that this “car accident” is one of several that Jeff has talked to him about and that the odds are next to none that he could have all of these incidents happen in such a short period of time. The therapist irresponsibly treats Jeff’s paranoid delusions as just a pesky personality quirk instead of a serious mental illness.

At one point in “Fourth of July,” Jeff’s paranoid delusions are never mentioned or shown again, as if this mental illness just magically disappeared on its own. That’s one of many examples of why “Fourth of July” is so forced and fake. In fact, the filmmakers of “Fourth of July” spend so much time and effort trying to make Jeff look like a sad sack who’s been beaten down by life, but then it soon becomes apparent that Jeff is his own worst enemy who wants to blame his parents (especially his mother) for all of his problems.

Jeff didn’t come from an abusive home. He didn’t grow up underprivileged. Jeff is bitter because he thinks that his parents didn’t give him enough hugs when he was a child. He also doesn’t like that his parents never told him, “I love you,” when he was growing up. And if they did tell him that, he doesn’t remember.

Almost all of the so-called jokes in “Fourth of July” aren’t funny at all. The therapist tells Jeff: “We could talk about your mother, and all of those other things might take care of themselves.” Jeff angrily replies, “You suck. You’re like the worst therapist.” The therapist says, “Most likely, yeah.”

Jeff is also seen visiting his dentist (played by Allan Havey), who tells Jeff that there’s nothing wrong with his teeth. Jeff insists that something in his mouth is affecting his facial structure. His doctor informs Jeff that what Jeff thinks is a facial deformity is really just Jeff’s jaw. Jeff wants to have a MRI test, just to make sure. Apparently, Jeff doesn’t know that it’s not a dentist’s job to do MRI tests. And apparently, that ignorance is supposed to be amusing.

Not only is Jeff having paranoid delusions but he’s also a hypochondriac. His hypochondria also magically disappears and is never mentioned again at a certain point in the movie. “Fourth of July” also has monotonous scenes of Jeff involved in Alcoholics Anonymous sponsorship. In the first third of the movie Jeff is shown meeting up with his AA sponsor Bill (played by Bill Scheft), who scolds Jeff for not returning Bill’s messages in a timely manner.

Bill then introduces Jeff to Bobby (played by Robert Kelly), another recovering alcoholic who’s floundering in life. Jeff has been assigned to be Bobby’s sponsor. Bobby and Jeff were acquaintances in high school. Bill thinks that Jeff would be a good sponsor match for Bobby, since Bobby is a drummer in a local pop/rock band that plays dive bars.

Do viewers of “Fourth of July” really need to see any scenes with Bobby performing with his band? No. But this type of useless scene is in “Fourth of July” anyway, as the movie drones on and on until it gets to what the movie is really about: Jeff going to his family’s annual Fourth of July reunion in Maine, and confronting his parents about what he thinks was his emotionally deprived childhood that Jeff believes is entirely his parents’ fault.

Beth would usually go on this Fourth of July trip with Jeff. But this time, Jeff tells her that this visit will be very intense for him, so he asks her not to go. Beth doesn’t seem disappointed at all. And when viewers see Jeff’s loud, crude and frequently nasty-tempered family, it’s easy to see why Beth is probably relieved she’s not at this family reunion, which takes place at the home owned by Jeff’s paternal grandfather. (Even though this family home is supposed to be in Maine, “Fourth of July” was filmed entirely in New York state.)

Jeff’s parents Shirley (played by Paula Plum) and Chris (played by Robert Walsh) aren’t quite the monsters that Jeff thinks they are. Shirley is domineering and critical, but she’s also someone who cares about the well-being of her family. Chris is very quiet and someone who doesn’t express emotions easily. Even though Jeff thinks both of his parents are emotionally aloof, he has more resentment toward his mother.

The other members of the clan who are at this reunion include Jeff’s paternal grandfather (played by Richard O’Rourke), who doesn’t have a name in the movie; Jeff’s aunt Tricia (played by Lynne Koplitz); Tricia’s husband Kevin (played by Nick Di Paolo); Jeff’s aunt Darlene (played by Dorothy Dwyer); Jeff’s cousin Brenda (played by Courtland Jones); Jeff’s bachelor uncle Mark (played by Chris Walsh); and a loudmouth named Tony (played by Tony Viveiros), whose only connection to this family is that he was the boyfriend of Jeff’s deceased aunt Marion. All of these relatives get into arguments or make snide remarks at each other at one point or another.

Mark (who is the much-younger half-brother of Jeff’s father) is close to Jeff’s age because the father of Mark and Chris was middle-aged when he became a father to Mark. Mark is the only family member at this reunion whom Jeff seems to like and trust. Mark is no angel though. One of the first things that Mark tells Jeff when they see each other at this family reunion is that he got fired from his most recent job at a copper company for selling the some of the company’s copper to a business rival.

Brenda, whose job is never mentioned, has brought her co-worker friend named Naomi (played by Tara Pacheco) to this family gathering, and she introduces Naomi when everyone is outside in a group. Naomi has been a widow for the past six months, and she’s not ready to start dating again. In other words, don’t expect there to be any surprise romances in this movie. Kevin and Tony are the blatant racists and sexists in the family, so of course they have to comment on Naomi being an African American woman.

Naomi sheepishly says that she’s actually biracial and asks if that’s okay with them. Kevin asks her which of her parents is black, and Naomi says her father. Tony then smirks as he announces to the whole family, “You know what that means: She got a big cock!” It’s a very cringeworthy scene. Naomi is a token character in every sense of the word: She isn’t given anything substantial to do but watch the pathetic antics of this angry family.

Everyone in the movie’s cast gives an adequate performance. Plum acts with the most “realism” in her role, while Robert Walsh has a brief moment in the film where he’s allowed to shine. All of the characters in “Fourth of July” are either bland, idiotic and/or very annoying. Jeff’s self-pitying gets tiresome very quickly, considering he likes playing the victim in his life, but he can be cruel to other people too. List’s depiction of Jeff has a lot of lukewarm and wishy-washy acting.

Die-hard fans of Louis C.K. fans might overlook the movie’s very glaring flaws, but anyone else who’s curious to see what the notorious Louis C.K. has to offer as a filmmaker will be disappointed by the tepid unoriginality of this “Fourth of July” movie. Many of the movie’s useless scenes look like they were written just so Louis C.K. could put some of his friends in the movie. Unfortunately, all that “Fourth of July” ends up being is insincere mush that looks like Louis C.K. reluctantly watered down his “bad boy” brand, in a very transparent attempt to get back in the good graces of mainstream audiences.

Abramorama released “Fourth of July” in select U.S. cinemas on July 1, 2022.

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