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Fifth of July

1 rating: -3.0
A movie

Playwright Lanford Wilson's much lauded Broadway play FIFTH OF JULY features an all-star cast which includes Richard Thomas (TV's THE WALTONS), Jeff Daniels (DUMB AND DUMBER), and Swoosie Kurtz (TV's SISTERS.) Set after the Vietnam War in the American … see full wiki

Release Date: 1982
MPAA Rating: Unrated
1 review about Fifth of July

Fifth of July

  • Dec 18, 2008
Pros: ...

Cons: ...

The Bottom Line:
"the celebration's over
we're now on our own for the first of our lives
on the fifth of july
now what"
~Eddie From Ohio

Fifth of July is actually a play, transferred to DVD by American Playhouse via Broadway Theatre archives.  It was released in 1982 and reads almost like a lightweight The Big Chill.  The story is based in Lebanon, Missouri, a small town that really isn't shown.  The group of players are Ken Talley, Vietnam vet who lost his legs in battle, and Jed Jenkins, a gardener and Ken's lover.  Combined in the mix are Gwen & John Landis, she's a singer, obviously well-to-do, that has never ‘made it' and he's her manager and promoter.  Both were prior roommates of Ken's, pre-war era, along with June Talley, Ken's sister.

It seems, while roommates, this was a vocal group - sit ins and protests against the war.  During this era, June & John were apparently lovers until Gwen came along.  June promptly left the household, however, as we now see, she didn't leave alone.  She has a daughter, Shirley, apparently John's, although neither she or he has ever admitted the fact.  Once Gwen came into the picture, she whisked John away, leaving Ken to his own devices, which ended up with his stint in the war.

Now they have all joined back together, over the 4th of July, for various reasons that seem rather ambiguous, in this small sleepy town where Ken & Jed live on the family farm.  Two other people appear, Aunt Sally, who is there to spread her husband's ashes before she leave for a retirement home in California, and Wes, a musician with Gwen & John's troop.

Overall it becomes rather overlapped and confusing at times.  Ken, who has signed a contract to return to teaching, not regrets his choice.  He is afraid to face a group of students with his obviously poorly made new legs.  Jed just wanders around in nothing but shorts the entire movie, talking about the 100's of lilies he has planted on the grounds.  Aunt Sally laments over her husband's ashes and the singing entourage is looking for a quick deal.

Perhaps I just didn't care for the format of the film.  It is obviously a play which distracts from the fact that they are trying to submit it as a movie.  It simply seems awkward.  And although the story is both funny and bittersweet, it just seemed to lack continuity or grounding.  Overall it left me rather flat and under whelmed. 

From what I understand, this was a successful play for Lanford Wilson, running 168 performances.  This filmette was directed by Kirk Browning & Marshall W. Mason.   It was nominated for no awards.  The cast was rather heady for this performance:  Richard Thomas played the part of Ken Talley.  I don't know if they attached some appliance to help him maintain the walk he adapted, it looked quite painful.  His lover, Jed, was played by Jeff Daniels, who elected to shun clothing for the part.  There was nothing obtrusive or ‘in-your-face' about their relationship.  It was conducted like any other family member, only they were male partners.  There are some tender moments between the two.

Gwen & John Landis were played by Swoosie Kurtz and Jonathan Hogan.  Aunt Sally was played by Helen Stenborg; June by Joyce Reehling; little 13 year old Shirley was played by Cynthia Nixon who was actually 24 at the time; and Wes by Danton Stone.  All the players involved have a long line of credits in all types of entertainment media. 

But, still, it all left me rather flat and uninvolved in their lives.



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