Donald Trump won’t be getting a producing credit in Ike Barinholtz’ dark comedy “The Oath,” which opens Friday, but he’s the major reason why the film got made.
“The movie grew out of the Thanksgiving dinner two years ago at my house in Los Angeles,” Barinholtz recalls. “We got into nasty fight about politics — and we had all voted the same way against Trump. So I woke up the next morning and thought ‘I’ve got make a movie about this, if this can happen at our table, it must be happening all over America.’”
“The Oath” takes place in a near future in which the U.S. government, headed by unnamed president, has required all citizens to sign a “Patriot’s Oath” to the government by Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving. Barinholtz’ character Chris and his no-nonsense wife Kai, played by Tiffany Haddish, host a Thanksgiving dinner in which discussion about the Patriot’s Oath explodes into violence when two government agents, played by John Cho and Billy Magnusson, show up unannounced.
Barinholtz is making his directorial debut. He cast his brother Jon Barinholtz as his movie brother Pat with Meredith Hagner as his new girlfriend. “Portlandia’s” Carrie Brownstein plays his sister and Nora Dunn and Chris Ellis portray his parents. Jay Duplass is the husband to Brownstein’s character and spends most of the movie in bed with the flu. Awkward moments abound, such as Barinholtz mistakenly calling Hagner’s character by the name of the former girlfriend.
“The Oath” was one of the highest-profile titles to premiere at last month’s LA Film Festival and has received mostly positive reviews, racking up an 86% “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Peter Debruge of Variety wrote, “Nothing spoils a family gathering quite like politics, and no movie has captured the way such debates can turn ugly quite like Ike Barinholtz’s “The Oath,” an impressively out-there feature debut in which no-win arguments over a divisive new government policy escalate into a full-blown hostage crisis.”
Barinholtz has established himself as a comic actor on “MadTv,” “The Mindy Project,” “Blockers” and the “Neighbors” movies. He co-wrote the comedy ‘Central Intelligence” with David Stassen.
“I don’t think holidays are the same now,” Barinholtz said. “The landscape has been changed forever and there’s a strong sense of ‘we don’t know what’s coming yet.’ So I went to Dave Stassen and my family members with the script and they all said, ‘Yes, this is you.’”
Barinholtz and Stassen produced “The Oath” along with Sean McKittrick, Raymond Mansfield and Andrew C. Robinson. Production companies are QC Entertainment, Topic Studios and 23/34 Prods.
Barinholtz said he tried to do much of the 20 day shoot in sequence, “especially the six days in the back room where the hostage crisis takes place. We called it the Hell Room. There was a lot going on in real life that we could include, such as Trump’s proclamation of National Loyalty Day last year. There’s a real absurdity around the 24 hour news cycle.”
Barinholtz is quick to express gratitude to his friends — “Get Out” writer-director-producer Jordan Peele, Seth Rogen, Mindy Kaling and Liz Cackowski — for advising him on “The Oath.” “I’m a C student who surrounds himself with A students who are brilliant,” he adds.
“Jordan Peele told me ‘You have to make the film balanced,’” he recalled. “He said that it was great that we had the drama broken up by jokes but if you add another joke when you do that — what’s called hat on hat — it throws the tone off. I call that the Jordan Rules.”
“Seth Rogen told me that I needed to adjust my performance because I was directing and said, ‘You’re going to think you’re better than you actually are so give yourself more than two takes,’” Barinholtz said. “He was right. My best was on the third and fourth takes.”
Roadside Attractions and Topic Studios bought the distribution rights in June. “The Oath” opens in 10 locations this weekend, then expands to 250 screens on Oct. 19.