Joe List in Fourth of July.

I got an email from Louis C.K.’s website reminding me that he had just self-released a movie that is available for purchase at his website. I absolutely HATED his movie I Love You, Daddy, but his TV show was a favorite of mine, and his comedy specials are always good. I hoped some of that funny mojo had perhaps worked its way into his feature filmmaking after that initial misfire.

The film stars Joe List as Jeff, a neurotic piano player with a wacky family, and Louis C.K. as Jeff’s therapist. For the first half hour or so, the film feels like a bag of bad clichés, and I thought I was witnessing further proof that C.K. should stick to more episodic vehicles rather than full-length movies.

Thankfully, the film gets better, to a point where it could actually be described as good. When List’s character leaves the city to spend a few days in Maine with his family for the Fourth of July, the movie becomes far more interesting, often funny, and dramatically effective. This film is not on par with C.K.’s best TV work in Louie, or his excellent short series Horace and Pete, but it’s a vast improvement over I Love You, Daddy.

For starters, Fourth of July doesn’t rip off Woody Allen as blatantly as Daddy does. Yeah, some elements of CK’s style still scream “Woody Allen” (including lots of jazz music and dark-framed glasses), but Fourth of July doesn’t feel like an Allen movie clone. List, who co-wrote the script with C.K., plays the central character with a confidence that builds—as if C.K. filmed everything chronologically, and List got better with time.

The last act actually has some real “wow” moments, with brutally honest dialogue from a capable cast including Nick Di Paolo, Robert Kelly and, especially, Paula Plum and Robert Walsh, as Jeff’s mom and dad. Walsh says a lot with silence—and when he speaks, it really hits home.

Fourth of July is proof that C.K. has some good stories left to tell, and that he might have his own “film” voice after all. I hope he can produce a movie someday that carries the anarchic, insane spirit of his pioneering TV show—but, in the meantime, Fourth of July is pretty good.

Fourth of July is available for purchase at LouisCK.com.

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