“Fourth of July” is a terrific recovery from the listless, punchline oriented couple of episodes that preceded it — as well as a wonderful bounce back by Hal Hartley, the indelible independent film director who has his name on the credits of this one. Hartley is underappreciated in the conversation about American movies of the past 25 years, perhaps he’s never had a slam-dunk zeitgeist hit like his partners in arms Richard Linklater or the Coen Brothers or Red Oaks own exec producer Steven Soderbergh. But Hartley films — he’s directed 13 features, including Trust (1990), Simple Men (1992), and Henry Fool (1998) — are literate, distinctive, deadpan little epics on the idiosyncrasies of modern life. Whoever thought of him to direct this episode (if I had to venture a guess, I’d say Soderbergh) deserves a tip of the fedora.
Multiple story lines get advanced here. Wheeler, lumbering into the country club cocaine trade, accidentally catches Misty’s lifeguard boyfriend “en flagrante digital” with a waitress and goes against the bro code to tell Misty about it. Also caught while up to no good is Nash, who has a humiliating confrontation with Getty after the club present finds him in a garage playing poker with other employees, and enacts punishment by challenging Nash to a one-card duel for his winnings. (Getty wins, of course, his Queen to Nash’s Jack).
David, as usual, is an observer in his own life. But the writing is crisp and clean and the subtext strong in a scene where Getty takes him into the clubhouse to gaze upon a wall of placards dedicated to Red Oaks Men’s Tennis Champions throughout the ages, a list which has been dominated for five years running by Stan Feinberg. He was the plastic surgeon whose name caused Getty agita in the third episode. Feinberg “rarely attends club functions,” complains Getty, “he’s too good for ‘em, like fixing t— makes him Jonas Salk.”
Getty books David (over the senior teaching pro, Nash) to be his coach for the six weeks between Fourth of July and Labor Day with the explicit goal to beat Feinberg in the club finals. He even promises David a bonus if he wins.
David: What kinda bonus?
Getty: Seriously, that’s how you open a negotiation?
David: I didn’t realize we were negotiating.
Getty: Well, then you’ve already lost, haven’t you? But I’m in a festive mood — it’s our nation’s birthday. I’m gonna give you a do-over. Come on.
David: I want a thousand dollars.
Getty: Okay, first of all you don’t mention numbers. You leave that for the lawyers.
David: I don’t have lawyers.
Getty: Well, just pretend you do.
The scene works because it presents Getty as a negotiation addict, rather than a tycoon buffoon, and David as having acquired some spine (and potentially a studio apartment in Greenwich Village) from the interaction. It’s subtle, but we realize exactly why Getty chose him as a coach over Nash. Winning the tennis championship, while vainglorious of Getty, is buttressed by David’s motivation to move out of his parents’ house.
NEXT: Speaking of David’s parents…