'The 4th': Sundance Review

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Unexpected layers of complexity.

Writer-director Andre Hyland’s slacker comedy represents an impressive expansion of his online persona.

Andre Hyland’s hilarious comedy short Funnel played Sundance in 2014 and with more than 110,000 YouTube views he’s built a solid online following, while also creating content for MTV, Comedy Central and Funny or Die. His first feature follows in much the same vein of deadpan situational humor that will prove relatable to a broad audience of struggling urbanites and would make a good fit for limited theatrical release or VOD platforms.

It’s the Fourth of July and broke LA illustrator Jamie (Hyland) is planning to throw a holiday party on a ridiculously limited budget while his obnoxious, nit-picking roommate is out of town. First he has to gather all of the party supplies he’ll need, but unwilling to move his car from a prime parking spot across the street from his apartment, he borrows his roommate’s prized bicycle for a quick trip to the liquor store that turns into an epic series of misadventures.

First, his encounter with a road-raging pickup driver (Jeff Carpenter) turns even uglier when the guy follows Jamie to the store and demolishes the bike beneath his truck while Jamie is inside. Trying to walk the broken bicycle back home, he calls his buddy Scotty (Johnny Pemberton) to pick him up, but since he’s headed in another direction, Jamie reluctantly pages an Uber ride. On the trip back home, Jamie spots the road rager and asks Patrick (Brent Weinbach) the driver to pursue the truck so he can get the license plate number, but Patrick has very particular expectations for his riders’ behavior and finds Jamie too excitable after he loses the truck in traffic. So Patrick forces him out of the car miles away from Jamie’s place after charging him an $86 fare.

Now down to his last $1.38 in cash Jamie badly needs to find a bathroom to relieve himself, but a corner convenience store clerk (Matt Peters) will only let customers use the facilities. A $1 candy bar gains him permission, but before he can use the bathroom an obnoxious party girl (Eliza Coupe) slips in ahead of him and proceeds to engage in an endless phone conversation inside while Jamie pleads at the door to take his turn. When she won’t relent he’s forced to make use of the sidewalk just as a passing police car cruises by and two wisecracking cops issue him a citation for public urination. By the time Jamie makes it back to his apartment, his problems hosting the party are far from over and it’s looking like this could turn out to be the worst Fourth of July ever.

Hyland’s particular talent as a multi-hyphenate is to identify the locus of humor in often awkward everyday events and turn them on himself for comedic effect. Jamie is the type of person who has a hard time dealing with open hostility, but can’t resist lobbing comments in the general direction of aggressors, enraging them further.

This appears to be a natural inclination for Hyland, so to the extent that he’s actually playing a character it may be just an exaggerated version of himself. To counter these antagonists, Hyland surrounds Jamie with a cast of dubiously reliable supporters who often contribute to complicating difficult situations further, forcing his protagonist to extract them from yet another potential conflict with surprising finesse.

Stylistic expectations for this type of low-key comedy are often fairly modest, but Hyland shows a particular talent for exploiting scenes that unfold in long shots with dialogue over the action. This distancing effect allows sequences to unfold organically with a certain ironic point of view, providing the viewer with a degree of perspective that couldn’t be extracted from conventional coverage. More intimate scenes are often shot with a single camera panning between characters, employing a typical low-budget technique.

In his roles as writer, director and editor, Hyland has expanded his trademark singular style to include a wider range of situations, characters and stylistic expression, demonstrating an ability to encompass more complex narratives that are yet to unfold.

Production companies: HotHouse Productions, bLoNd cHiLi Productions

Cast: Andre Hyland, Johnny Pemberton, Eliza Coupe, Yasmine Kittles, Anna Lee Lawson, Paul Erling Oyen, Jeff Carpenter, Brent Weinbach, Matty Cardarople

Director-writer:  Andre Hyland

Directors of photography: Shane Bruce Johnston, Charles Jensen Gibson

Editor: Andre Hyland

Sales: UTA

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (NEXT)

Not rated, 80 minutes

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