This weekend, Ike Barinholtz’ directorial debut, The Oath, hits theaters. The film is set in an America where the President has requested that citizens take a loyalty oath and do so by the day after Thanksgiving. Liberal couple Chris (Barinholtz) and Kai (Tiffany Haddish) are hosting their family for Thanksgiving, and trying to keep things civil, but the holiday keeps deteriorating as political tensions become more heated.
Last month, I got to sit down with Barinholtz in Atlanta to talk about the movie. We talked about what he learned from friends and family screenings, specifically from fellow directors Jordan Peele, Mindy Kaling, and Seth Rogen, how he approached directing his brother Jon Barinholtz, weaving in a thriller element, the political elements of the movie, and more.
Check out the full interview below. The Oath opens October 12th.
How’s the press tour treating you?
IKE BARINHOLTZ: Pretty great. Yeah, we were kind of bummed we couldn’t make it to the screening because of United Airlines. But, we just did a big old swing through Texas and, I was just telling them for the last five months, the only people that have seen this movie have been people who I’ve known, friends, “Check it out, give me some notes.” So, now that we’re really letting real Americans seeing it, it is pretty exhilarating.
What have you learned from those friends and family screenings? What was the feedback they had?
BARINHOLTZ: Everything from macro notes, to character notes, to practical things. Jordan Peele gave me some really great advice. He said, “You know, you have these really tense moments, and then you cut it with a joke, which is so great.” There were a couple of moments where I had another joke after that, and that’s a hat on a hat, we call it. And so, there was that … Mindy Kaling had a … there was a big scene towards the end of the movie that, it was a fine scene. It was very long, and wrappy-uppy, and Mindy Kaling was like, yeah, you should cut that scene.
The second she said that, I was like, “Yeah.” So yeah, it was really great to get that feedback, but now, to watch people who know nothing about it, or maybe they saw a trailer, watch it, and have these reactions, where they’re like, everything from, “That’s my family! You’ve been watching my family!” To people telling me how tense they were, how scared they were, how much they laughed, it makes the last year worth it.
One of the things that really leaped out at me is how much the film is like how fragile America is, and that sort of tension between everything could just tip over, and how much people want to hold on to that normalcy. Can you talk a little bit about trying to find that balance, and the writing process, and also, when you direct it?
BARINHOLTZ: That’s a great question. You know, I, like a lot of people, was so freaked out, not even … just shell-shocked by the election. What’s going on? This America we thought we knew was so different and stuff. So, I didn’t want to make it a political film. I wanted to make it about people’s reactions to politics, and how I have been watching people, otherwise smart, normal people’s brains break, myself included first.
I was going crazy, where I was constantly reading the news, non-stop. “Oh my God, did you hear about this? Oh, this is crazy!” Which is bad, and I really … I think politics have become so absurd, and the best thing to do is vote. But, the second-best thing to do is, take a step back, and laugh at it a little bit, and remember … try to remember who we are.
I think in terms of balancing the ends of the political spectrum, it was important that every character, if this is the American screen right here, and I tried my best to get characters all across the spectrum. You’ve got everyone from super, uber-liberal, like my character’s probably like a Bernie Sanders socialist, and then Mason is, basically a fascist. So, we wanted to show everyone in between, and it was very important that we show everyone warts and all.
The bad version of this movie is Chris, my character is, he’s the most liberal, and he’s the best, and he’s the smartest, and he is making the right decisions, and he’s kind. Who the fuck wants to see that movie? You know, I certainly don’t.
So, to take that character that I am, which is the most liberal, but also the worst-behaved, and a jerk, and obsessed, and ignoring his wife and child, and saying the c-word, and stuff like that, you know what I mean? So, I think look, there is this contingent of people in this country, a small, very small minority that will never see this, because they don’t really want to, but I’ve been really pleasantly, enthusiastically just thrilled with feedback, not just from people who I would presume are center, left of center, left.
People who are right … I had a lady who worked for Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas, who was decidedly Republican, see the screening in Austin, and she had great thoughts, and she really enjoyed it. So to me, I want to make a movie where people can go, and they can laugh at this family falling apart, because it’s not their family.