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Ike Barinholtz’s ‘The Oath’ takes a look at American politics through satire

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Ike Barinholtz’s ‘The Oath’ takes a look at American politics through satire
“The Oath” official poster. Photo: courtesy of Roadside Attractions

The dark comedy “The Oath” tackles the divisiveness of today’s hot-button political issues under the guise of a Thanksgiving comedy.

The political satire stars Ike Barinholtz (“Blockers” and “The Mindy Project”) as Chris, an anxiety-ridden news junkie, and Tiffany Haddish (“Girls Trip” and “Night School”) as his calm and sensible wife Kai, who learn that American citizens are being asked to sign a loyalty oath to the president. As the post-Thanksgiving deadline to sign draws near, the combination of Chris’s growing agitation, bickering family members and the unexpected arrival of two government agents (John Cho and Billy Magnussen) sends an already tense holiday gathering completely off track.

Barinholtz was inspired to write the movie when he and his family got into an argument about the election at Thanksgiving dinner in 2016, despite being pretty much aligned politically, the actor said during a post-screening Q&A in Boston earlier this month. “The Oath” also marks his feature film directorial debut.

Produced by the team behind “BlacKkKlansman” and “Get Out,” there was a sense of urgency in having the film release prior to the midterm elections, Barinholtz told the Banner. “I don’t think there’s a way that it could have come out much before it because of the schedule. And I think, too, it is that kind of perfect storm of the most important midterm of our lifetime ever, heading into the holidays.”

Character building

The actor, whose character becomes more and more unhinged and hostile throughout the film, purposefully put himself in the mindset of Chris by having Fox News, MSNBC, and CNN running nonstop. “I wanted to make myself a little crazy when I was writing so I could really make Chris’s mindset not reliable.”

Prior to screening the film in Boston, Barinholtz spent three weeks on the road promoting “The Oath” in the South, including Texas, as well as in the Bay area and the Midwest. He found the tour an opportunity to engage in real conversations with all types of people and “to hear how it affects them and how they relate to it.” Of the experience he said, “It’s by far the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done in my life. I cannot wait to do it again.”

He recounted a conversation after the first screening in Austin, Texas, with a woman who works in Gov. Greg Abbott’s office. She asked him if he found the conservative characters over the top. His response to her was that he purposefully made all the characters over the top, so that he could “shine a light on the absurd nature of what’s going on right now.”

With that answer, she walked away, but came back 20 minutes later and told him that she did enjoy the movie and would try to get people from the governor’s office to go out and see it. The interesting part of the exchange for him was when she said, “I would love to talk to you and give you some more conservative feedback because I think people need to hear from some conservatives who don’t necessarily agree with Donald Trump.”

For Barinholtz, her comments were hopeful, because the worst thing for him, he said, would be if only people on one side of the aisle saw the movie. “I think that’s a waste, because it’s satire. Good satire makes fun of everyone, and so I did try to show everyone kind of warts and all.”

With the film now in theaters nationwide, he hopes “The Oath” will spark conversations between family members and friends, especially those who may no longer be speaking to one another because of the 2016 election. “It used to be that you could debate the issue, and now you’re debating philosophy,” Barinholtz said. “Once we shut down the lines of communication, they’re very hard to reopen.”

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