Fourth of July

By Major Dorfman | Drama
A young mother struggles to parent her 2 rowdy boys on a hot summer day.

Kate is a young mother who is hard up for childcare during Independence Day weekend, and can't find anyone to watch over her two rambunctious young sons, Billy and Jamison. Harried and stressed, she carts them from one place to another. She chases after them while they run off and deals with constant requests, questions and demands.

At Billy's game, she lets Jamison run off to play with the other kids so she can enjoy watching one of her children play. But while she's watching, Jamison and another little girl play with some fireworks they bought earlier, and the little girl burns herself. Eager to avoid a confrontation she barely has any energy left to deal with, she tries to flee -- but finds she can't escape the buildup of stress that has finally caught up to her.

Written and directed by Major Dorfman, this short drama has finely attuned powers of observation, following the travails of a young mother trying to parent her two children on a long, hot summer day. Shot with a keen, naturalistic visual style and edited with a strong feel for the telling moment and gesture, it captures one small event after the next, each one underlined with the stress and pressure of parenting and slowly but surely building up to a boiling point, on a day that's equally heated and uncomfortable.

The writing gives us very little background information, preferring instead to drop us in the middle of Kate's very harried, stressful day. She's already frazzled and irritated, told that she's losing her childcare because her boys are too much. That brief but pointed conversation sets the narrative frame, as Kate struggles to keep a handle on Billy and Jamison as she goes about her day. We don't know if Kate is a single parent, but we see she's essentially alone. Even at the game, her few interactions with the other parents are grating and full of passive-aggression, underlining her further isolation.

Actor Taylor Karin plays Kate with forthright commitment, with every moment in her performance feeling honest and specific. Karin and the rest of the film are not afraid to make Kate thorny and abrasive at times, and when Kate is confronted with her most stressful situation on a long, wearying day, it presents what looks like poor judgments as knee-jerk flight-or-flight responses to acute stress. And that acute stress finally must be released, in a build-up that tears at her and the people she loves the most.

With such brutally honest performances and the present-tense documentary-like approach, "Fourth of July" allows viewers a lot of space to absorb the story's nuances, and this might make it easy to judge Kate, who struggles with her children. Some will ask why she can't "control" them, or some may question her choices. But many parents will recognize just how tough it is to parent in a world where everyone admits "it's the toughest job" -- but expects parents to meet all challenges with little support and understanding. And many will understand how parenting can feel like "death by a thousand cuts," where a pile-up of small but sharp stresses builds up to a personal implosion. One parenting maxim exhorts that kids need love often when they act their least lovable. But this film extends that to their parents as well. Its final scene is one of a hard-earned celebration -- that Kate got through the end of the day, and a reminder of the love that underlies it all.

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