“The Oath” – Election Day 2018 is right around corner, and with political tensions at arguably an all-time high, friendships are strained or broken, and families members are not speaking to one another.
For Chris (Ike Barinholtz) and his family, they ARE speaking to each other, but that is a horrendous problem.
A comedian by trade, Barinholtz takes aim at the current sludge of political discourse by writing and directing a picture built in an alternative, modern universe where the presidential administration asks voting-age Americans to sign “The Patriot’s Oath”, to pledge loyalty to the country. No, this is not an oral pledge like “The Pledge of Allegiance”.
It’s in writing.
No one has to sign it, but peer pressure can spur reluctant conformity. If you thought high school was bad, well now, just about everyone that you know at work, in your neighborhood and/or place of worship has signed the pledge.
Barinholtz’s black comedy centers currently combustible conversations and lights a match during the one event that could burn families for an entire year.
No, not a family reunion. Thanksgiving!
Individuals who fill the entire political spectrum arrive for Thanksgiving weekend. This includes hard or leaning left democrats (Chris, his wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish) and sister Alice (Carrie Brownstein)), hard or leaning right republicans (Chris’ brother Pat (Jon Barinholtz) and his girlfriend Abbie (Meredith Hagner)) and others fall somewhere in-between (parents Eleanor (Nora Dunn) and Hank (Chris Ellis) and Alice’s husband).
As one would expect, the dreaded “Oath” and politics in general dominate the discourse, as Chris, Pat and Abbie lead the charge from their ideological corners. Even though Chris automatically surmises that his beliefs are more righteous, he repeatedly goads Pat and Abbie into verbal combat. Chris becomes half-obsessed with social media, television and political outrages, while Pat and Abbie spew nearly constant streams of random insensitive observations.
In other words, there are no winners.
Since the cast is packed with actors blessed with good comedic timing, the caustic discussions do pack some hilarious punches, and during the first 45-50 minutes, the film offers biting social commentary through a camera lens laced with sharp edges. The preparation for dinner and the holiday itself offer a split between gorgeous suburban excess and rituals – set in a perfectly furnished 3,500 sq. ft. “Crate and Barrel” house – and family triggers and banter will drive uncomfortable shifts in your theatre seat and mixes of hearty and nervous laughter.
Outside forces (John Cho, Bill Magnussen), however, enter the camera frame and Chris’ home, as the picture takes a sudden tonal shift that falls into “The Ref” (1994) territory. If you thought the movie felt uncomfortable before, well, you haven’t seen anything yet. Depending on one’s mood, the film’s second half either feels like heightened cinema or ludicrous nonsense. This critic felt the former.
One could actually imagine the said events in Chris’ and Kai’s home slide into their destined, bizarre territory. They certainly are not likely to do so, but bring the film’s satire into deeper focus and makes the movie experience an anthropological study into a funhouse mirror on ourselves, and it ain’t supposed to be pretty.
No matter what you take away from “The Oath”, you’ll wish to avoid talking politics for a quite a while. That’s a win. Well, it is election season, so maybe the hiatus will last a day. Let’s hope.
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Image credits: ; Trailer credits: ONE Media (YouTube)