If there’s a more stressful comedy than Ike Barinholtz’ The Oath, I don’t want to see it. The actor/first-time director has constructed an only slightly exaggerated critique of how our country has become addicted to lopsided news—and our inability to separate politics from personal relationships.
The titular “oath” is a document that the film’s fictional authoritarian president has asked all Americans to sign by the day after Thanksgiving... a request that's accompanied by veiled threats. This causes all sorts of strife at the holiday dinner between ultra-progressive Chris (Barinholtz), his wife Kai (Tiffany Haddish), his right-wing brother Pat (Jon Barinholtz), and Pat's Fox News-addicted girlfriend (Meredith Hagner). While one might assume the film is solely about mending familial fences between those who have different views, The Oath takes a deeper, decidedly darker view. National events ramp up to a disturbing degree, and new characters are introduced in the latter half of the film who make this comedy not very comedic at all.
And that’s the primary problem with The Oath: While its very of-the-moment message—recognizing the dangers of authoritarian rule without falling victim to it emotionally—is a must-hear, it doesn’t work as a comedy… even a dark one. There are three bust-a-gut laughs in the piece, but the rest of the jokes fall flat due to the stressful context of the script.
So instead of seeing The Oath, I’m just going to advise the following: Speak up (and vote) for what you know is right, but take an occasional health break from the constant firehose of news and panic on social media. Remember: Preventing dystopia is a marathon, not a sprint.