A headline that sounds like it can only be ripped from the likes of The Onion, The Oath is the perfect political satire for the Trump era.
Imagine every American being asked to sign an oath that states: “I pledge my loyalty to my President and my country and vow to defend them from enemies, both foreign and domestic.” This is what writer-director Ike Barinholtz is asking us by watching The Oath. It’s a new political satire and maybe the first of the darkest timeline. Shockingly, this isn’t much of a stretch to believe. These are dangerous times and it’s only raising the bar for our American comedy.
Political news junkie Chris (Ike Barinholtz) and his wife, Kai (Tiffany Haddish, are in disbelief about what the president is asking the country to do. Cut to some ten months later and the family is coming to their house for Thanksgiving. The first to arrive are Chris’ parents, Eleanor and Hank (Nora Dunn and Chris Ellis). Chris’ brother Pat (Jon Barinholtz) and his girlfriend, Abbie (Meredith Hagner), are the next to arrive. Right off the bat, we can tell that Chris and Abbie will not get along. Finally, Chris’ sister Alice (Carrie Brownstein), her husband Clark (Jay Duplass), and their children show up.
Things go from tense to worse when two Citizen Protection Unit agents, Peter and Mason (John Cho and Billy Magnussen), show up out of the blue. Peter is the good cop to Mason’s bad. Mason is the guy who represents the worst of America at the moment. The fact that neither of them have a warrant tell us what kind of agency the Homeland Security spin-off will be.
While late night talk show hosts are able to respond at a quicker pace with sitcoms just a bit behind, the movies are the slowest to respond. This is because of how long it takes to get a film into development, yadda, yadda yadda. Now where was I? Oh, right. A president asking us to sign an oath no later than the day after Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving holiday is already stressful enough–what with all the family breathing down your back–so this oath only serves to strengthen the tension. Strengthen it, it does!
While the overlying tension of the film is The Patriot’s Oath, Barinholtz is wise to ground it with the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. No other holiday carries the same amount of stress as this one in particular. Independence Day may come close in theory but a family barbecue just wouldn’t have the same tension.
It’s not uncommon for comedians to turn to political satire for comedy. Writer-director Ike Barinholtz got his start in comedy as a member of the Chicago improv scene. He once worked as a busboy at Second City so this political satire isn’t really a surprise in that regard. The comedy mecca’s Mainstage shows are known for being ripe with political satire (Trust me, I know). This is a film that’s very fitting for his background in comedy.
Grounded by way of Thanksgiving weekend, The Oath raises the bar for how satirical comedies must respond to the Trump era.
DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER: Ike Barinholtz
CAST: Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, Nora Dunn, Chris Ellis, Jon Barinholtz, Meredith Hagner, Carrie Brownstein, with Billy Magnussen and John Cho