Divided We Laugh - The Oath
The one thing I think we can all agree on is that times appear to be changing. LeBron James plays for the Lakers, Get Out was nominated for four Oscars and a former reality television star is now President of the United States. Our expectations and norms are shifting under our feet and it can be a fun exercise to push the boundaries and see just how far we can imagine things going. The Oath endeavors to present a credible but outlandish take on where we might be headed if politics keep unfolding the way they have recently. And while I’m not sure the end result is plausible, it’s certainly close enough to possible to be thought-provoking, original and genuinely funny. You will see us in this.
“…I pledge my loyalty to my President and my country and vow to defend them from enemies, both foreign and domestic.” These are the words at the heart of the movie’s premise—namely whether the members of this family gathered for Thanksgiving agree or disagree with the idea that citizens ought to sign the oath. Chris (played by Ike Barinholtz) is an idealistic progressive who adorns his walls with McGovern posters for credibility. He has a Black wife, Kai (played by Tiffany Haddish), and together they are raising a daughter in a world that is growing more hostile to certain marginalized groups.
The movie makes it clear that people are being pressured personally and professionally to sign the oath, which Chris sees as tantamount to treason. When his family gathers for Thanksgiving, their traditional values clash with his own and hilarity ensues. Chris’ refusal to sign the oath becomes a point of major contention and even leads to a bit of a dangerous situation when government agents show up to investigate his refusal.
Barinholtz is pulling triple duty here as the lead actor, writer and director of this Get Out inspired thriller. While it has many more comedic beats than Get Out, it no doubt has just as many high minded things to say about our body politic. And when it is saying those things, it is wonderful. The movie really finds its stride once the family is sitting at the dinner table airing their grievances with one another’s views. So much of the conversation felt genuine and deeply reflective of this current moment we are all living in. The problem is that the movie was much more interested in some of the slapstick elements that followed instead of meditating on those more thought-provoking notes.
Barinholtz’s script very succinctly captures the CliffsNotes versions of the arguments each side generally finds themselves advancing. The sly thing about the final product is that while it is ostensibly a movie about politics, it is just as much about the fact that it is so often silly for us to be as absorbed by politics. Through Tiffany Haddish’s character, Barinholtz manages to ground the story in certain more elemental concerns that ultimately make whether or not someone signed some nebulous oath seem a lot less important. For my money, the movie could have carried this thread through a little more, but credit to Barinholtz for even identifying a perspective other than his own.
Ultimately, the movie is an inventive look at the broadest strokes of our political back and forth. Equal parts basic instinct and food fight, the movie seems to suggest that what is right around us is ultimately more important than what’s happening in Washington. Hopefully we can all agree on at least that.
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