Here's some welcome news about The Oath, Ike Barinholtz's tense and shouty comedy about a family trying to get through Thanksgiving as their not-quite-ours America boils over in rage. While watching the film, I not only laughed a lot and gasped oh, shit! in the right places. I somehow never once found myself tempted to sneak a peek at my phone to check in on our real American hellscape.
That impulse -- to continually stoke our fury with Twitter takes, cable news shouters, and breaking news updates -- gets lanced throughout The Oath, which writer-director-star Barinholtz has set in a now just as fevered as ours. A megalomaniacal president supported by a fervent right wing has given Americans one year to sign a loyalty pledge. That established, Barinholtz cuts to the week before Thanksgiving, just days before the sign-up deadline. The TV chatters about violent protests and missing citizens. Barinholtz plays incredulous lefty Chris, husband to Tiffany Haddish's more pragmatic Kai. He shouts back at the TV while she plows ahead with life, her focus on their daughter.
Yes, this is a movie where that volcanic comic Tiffany Haddish plays the calm one. When will she erupt? Chris' family is coming to visit for Thanksgiving, and his mother (a splendid Nora Dunn) has emailed everyone a firm edict: No politics! That's impossible, of course. The key joke of the film's first half is that nobody's brain boils more quickly than that of Chris, the principled liberal who fancies himself the voice of reason. He's right about the monotonousness of the world at large, but he's also a monster himself. The film's final third complicates the satire, spices in some violence and feints toward tragedy.