Thanksgiving should be a pure holiday. No Hallmark pressure to buy cards or decorate the house. No corporate consumerism pressing us to buy gifts for everyone we know. We’re just supposed to eat, digest, and be grateful. However, if personal experience and cinematic history are reliable sources, Thanksgiving tends to steer into family drama. The Oath capitalizes on that post-gorging tension and adds a dose of heavy-handed politics to make it topical.
Directed, written, and starring Ike Barinholtz, The Oath feels like what one man thinks will be considered provoking and funny. Though it’s a little funny at times and occasionally picks beneath the surface of America’s current political divide, the film rarely offers any deep insight or real laughs. The intention is there, but the delivery is lacking.
The title refers to the unnecessary catalyst in the plot. Over Thanksgiving week, Americans are tasked with signing a patriotic oath of loyalty to the USA. The government vows that there will be no negative repercussions for not signing it, but we all know that’s malarkey. A new government agency that “protects citizens” and their ability to sign the oath has been deployed, and there have ben reports of these guys being as power hungry and subtle as I.C.E., so we know where this is all headed.
Barinholtz stars as Chris, the news junkie husband who’s hosting his family’s Thanksgiving feast this year. His wife, Kai (Tiffany Haddish), seems to be mostly on his side regarding his Left-leaning politics, but isn’t nearly as fervent as he is. She certainly doesn’t support his new addiction. Chris’s whole family comes over for the hungry holiday, and while Chris promises to try his hardest to avoid politics, his “hardest” appears to be barely trying at all. Just as tensions are running high, two officers from the new government agency arrive to investigate an anonymous tip they received about Chris. Things go very badly quickly, and this disjointed family has to work together to try to make everything stable at home.
The perplexing part of The Oath is the oath itself. As a plot device, it seems unnecessary. It doesn’t change American politics, or add anything to the dialogue around our country’s fractured political discourse, so why create it at all? Had it been a more nuanced or insightful fictionalization, I’d be more accepting of the liberties the movie takes, but it doesn’t do anything to change the game, really.
The other, more serious issue with The Oath is that it tries to be a comedy, but it’s not funny. Occasionally a few zingers come out of the mostly improvised dialogue, but most of the time we’re left watching amazing comedic actors verbally flail around, trying to find the humor. It’s just flat.
Thanksgiving is brutal enough without adding fictionalized political devices. The Oath fails to recognize this and fails to deliver any notable laughs or insights into our nation’s politics.