A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Oath is a dark comedy about a politically divided family whose Thanksgiving takes a very dark turn after the president institutes a loyalty pledge that sets off extreme reactions throughout the country. Strain eventually gives way to horror as bloody violence breaks out, including pistol-whippings, shooting, beatings, and more. You can also expect lots of strong language, especially "f--k," as well as racist and homophobic slurs. Adults drink and use drugs (pot), and a married couple starts a sexual encounter but nothing graphic is shown. Writer-director Ike Barinholtz co-stars alongside Tiffany Haddish, Billy Magnussen, and John Cho, among others.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
THE OATH takes place in a near-future America in which an unnamed president has instituted a loyalty oath for citizens to sign. The fact that it includes a pledge of support for the president, rather than the nation, sets off extreme reactions throughout the country. Meanwhile, liberal Chris (writer-director Ike Barinholtz) and his wife, Kai (Tiffany Haddish), host Thanksgiving for Chris' politically divided family, including his conservative brother, Pat (Jon Barinholtz); Pat's girlfriend, Abbie (Meredith Hagner); and their mellower sister, Alice (Carrie Brownstein). Familial strain gives way to horror as the proceedings take a sudden, dark turn.
Is it any good?
A demanding loyalty pledge is a clever device for looking at the kind of divides that are capable of splitting up families, but this comedy's storytelling is uneven. The Oath seems to have its heart in the right place and could even be seen as optimistic despite its sometimes pitch-black tone. It definitely has a leftward (or perhaps non-rightward) bent, depicting some on the conservative side as non-critical thinkers, to say the least. But Ike Barinholtz also doesn't skimp on depicting the obnoxiousness and easy triggering that many complain about regarding liberals, too. In that way, the film is balanced: Almost everyone in it is objectionable in some way.
But the story moves in fits and starts, lurching from confrontation to confrontation. Barinholtz goes perhaps too far in making it clear why even reasonable people tell Chris to shut up. The film's sudden dark turn is the kind of adrenaline shot that focuses you, especially since it features John Cho and the versatile Billy Magnussen. It's also a pleasure to see Haddish in such a sensible role, though Jay Duplass' screen time is all too limited. Brownstein has become a welcome screen presence, injecting calm into the chaos. The film declines to name any current politicians, policies, or events, so it's less an exploration of specific issues than a parable about how terrifyingly easy it is to turn people against one another -- and how even those who believe they have strong moral compasses can be led astray under stress. Without spoiling anything, The Oath could be interpreted to have a hopeful outlook, that perhaps the time will come when the country wakes up from its current fever dream and reunites, more or less.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how the characters' political divide is portrayed in The Oath. Is one side shown as being completely right and the other completely wrong? What about the behavior of those involved? How can kids navigate contentious politics?
After a lot of chaos and fighting, the family unites. What message do you think the film is trying to send?
Did you notice any stereotyping in the movie? If so, how did it make you feel?
If you were asked to take the movie's loyalty oath, what would you do?
- In theaters: October 12, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: January 9, 2019
- Cast: Ike Barinholtz, Tiffany Haddish, Billy Magnussen
- Director: Ike Barinholtz
- Studio: Roadside Attractions
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: language throughout, violence and some drug use
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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