After the election of Donald Trump, it was only a matter of time before a filmmaker would put out a fictional movie taking on the current administration, either in direct or indirect form. The first one to go all in on that concept is The Oath, a hilarious-yet-uncomfortable movie that may feel a little too real.
The film, written and directed by Ike Barinholtz, centers on married couple Chris (Barinholtz) and Kai (Tiffany Haddish). The fictional presidential administration has announced that they are asking all Americans to sign a loyalty oath, with a deadline of the day after Thanksgiving.
Chris and Kai, who are liberal, are hosting Thanksgiving dinner, with their guests including Chris’ conservative brother, Pat (Jon Barinholtz), and his girlfriend, Abbie (Meredith Hagner); Chris’ liberal sister, Alice (Carrie Brownstein), and her husband (Jay Duplass) and kids; and Chris’ moderate parents (Nora Dunn and Chris Ellis).
With protests erupting around the country and people of opposite ideologies in close proximity, it’s only a matter of time before things start to blow up. But the directions those arguments take and the lengths Barinholtz goes to prove his points are wholly unexpected, wild, and supremely entertaining.
There’s no doubt that the film plays like a liberal fever dream, with an authoritarian regime threatening anyone who doesn’t give in to their demands. Even so, one of the most notable aspects of the film is how real it feels. Most comedies of this sort exaggerate situations so as to make it as funny as possible, but Barinholtz accomplishes the same goal while keeping the story relatively down to earth.
He does so by treating each of his characters as actual human beings instead of caricatures. Even if you disagree with what one of them is saying, he or she comes off as fully believable because Barinholtz gave the actors plenty of space to fully inhabit their individual roles.
The balance of humor and drama is as tricky as you can imagine, as characters engage in some truly awkward arguments that would seem to preclude any jokiness. But the film somehow finds a way to bring things back around, and some of the most cringe-worthy moments are also the funniest.
As great as the script is, the film would be nothing without its top-to-bottom stellar cast. Each role is filled to near perfection, with both Barinholtz brothers, Haddish, and Hagner getting the most time to shine. Special note should be made of Billy Magnussen and John Cho, who each deliver bravura performances in the final act.
The release of The Oath just a few weeks before Election Day would seem to be no accident. It’s an atom bomb of a film aimed directly at Trump-ism, and to say it hits its target is an understatement.