By Leslie C. Halpern
As if the holidays weren’t stressful enough with extra expenses, travel arrangements, snarled traffic, and sibling rivalry, try adding diverse political views into the Thanksgiving mix. That’s what happens in The Oath, a dark action comedy written and directed by Ike Barinholtz (Suicide Squad and The Mindy Project), who also stars in the film.
Barinholtz portrays Chris, a liberal white man happily married to his equally liberal black wife, Kai, (Tiffany Haddish). They live with their two children in a beautiful suburban neighborhood. They watch in disbelief as a White House spokeswoman announces on television that all U.S. citizens are requested to sign a Patriot’s Oath (a loyalty waiver to the President). Americans have nearly a year – until the day after Thanksgiving – to sign the oath. Although not required by law, the Government offers tax benefits and other perks for signing…and perhaps a visit from the Citizens Protection Unit (CPU) for those who refuse to sign.
Chris, a social media addict, observes the nationwide frenzy of increasing violence, strange disappearances of non-signers (including Seth Rogen), and home invasions by the CPU as Thanksgiving Day approaches. His conservative family is coming to their house for the holiday and his parents (Nora Dunn and Chris Ellis) have issued a no-political discussions rule, which Chris immediately discards upon their arrival. His ultra-conservative brother (real-life brother Jon Barinholtz) and his girlfriend (Meredith Hagner) wage an ongoing verbal battle with the hosting family. His sister (Carrie Brownstein) and her ailing husband (Jay Duplass) offer a more neutral stance.
Just when it seems like things can’t get worse, two officers from the CPU (Billy Magnussen and John Cho) arrive at the house to question Chris about not signing the oath. Utilizing the traditional good cop/bad cop roles, the CPU officers escalate an already tense environment. Tension leads to panic, and panic leads to violence. Soon the scene is out of control. Who reported Chris? Where will the violence lead?
Dark Political Comedy
Although this may not sound like the basis for a comedy, this dark film is comical throughout. These ordinary people are thrust into an extraordinary circumstance that isn’t likely to have a happy ending. The actors play for laughs, but there’s also a darker subtext about angry, close-minded extremists taking on the traits they despise in the other. This is Barinholtz’s directorial debut, and while the humor occasionally misses the mark, the timely cautionary tale might prompt more peaceful political discussions around Thanksgiving dinner tables this year.
- Reflecting the political divisiveness going on in the country, a family’s Thanksgiving celebration turns violent when opposing views derail the holiday.
- Stars: Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, John Cho, Billy Magnussen, Jon Barinholtz, Nora Dunn, Chris Ellis, Carrie Brownstein, Jay Duplass, Max Greenfield
- Writer-Director: Ike Barinholtz
- Genre: Romantic Action Comedy
- Run Time: 93 minutes
- MPAA Rating: R (for language throughout and some drug use)
- Click here to watch a trailer for The Oath.
Leslie C. Halpern is the author of Scantily Clad Truths: Essays on Life with Clothes (and without) and 200 Love Lessons from the Movies.