This piece was published during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Earlier this month, Academy Award-winning filmmaker Denys Arcand released his Testament, where he complained that none of us can honestly say anything anymore without getting canceled. It was an “Old Man Yells at Cloud” testament, allegedly taking a jab at “political correctness” and Québec’s penchant for “woke” ideologies but only posited a once-respectable director as a bitter, old, reactionary crank.
Two weeks later, Bill Burr releases Old Dads, a comedy that complains about the fact that none of us can honestly say anything anymore without getting canceled, taking a jab at “political correctness” and America’s penchant for “woke” ideologies but only posits a once-respectable comedian and actor as a bitter, old, reactionary crank. Enough already.
At least Arcand’s Testament had a plot, which saw an old man see his life flash before his eyes and reminisce on what was before he departed this Earth while activists sow discord in the retirement home he is currently living in. In Old Dads, Burr and co-screenwriter Ben Tishler draw vignettes where he, through the figure of Jack Kelly, incessantly complains about political correctness with his best friends/work partners Connor Brody (Bobby Cannavale) and Mike Richards (Bokeem Woodbine) – and none of the humor is hilarious.
The gist of some of Old Dad’s events boils down to Jack calling a private kindergarten principal (Rachael Harris) the C-word, which forces him to publicly apologize to her and all the parents and children while joining an organizing committee for the school’s yearly party and silent auction. However, there is barely a connective thread or a thematic underpinning – if any – that stitches the vignettes together. It’s just Burr and his friends provoking for the sake of provocation, without much thought – or intelligence – behind the jokes. Burr wants to push buttons, but why does he want to push buttons?
Old Dads Provokes Because It Can, Not Because It Has Anything to Say
In Testament, or even in Arcand’s Days of Darkness, the director wants to say something about the current climate, even if his “jokes” are deeply offensive and ham-fisted. Take the car scene in Old Dads as an example, where Mike attempts to force a co-worker, Travis (Justin Miles), to say the N-word while singing N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” to prove a point that white people say it when they jam to the songs alone, but won’t when Black people are around. Firstly, this whole conceit is pitifully offensive and uses a word with deeply racist connotations as a means of humor, but it’s neither funny nor provocative. It’s just done in poor taste.
But there’s no deeper meaning beyond that joke other than “white people can’t say what they want anymore.” In Days of Darkness, Arcand also draws “jokes” with his protagonist Jean-Marc Leblanc (Marc Labrèche) repeatedly saying the N-word. Still, he at least has something to say about this type of behavior, rather than “white people can’t say what they want anymore” (even if his latest movie amounts to this thesis). It pushes a lot of buttons, but one comes out of his 2007 movie thinking about the images (and words) they’ve seen instead of just an Old Dad Yelling at Cloud-type film like Old Dads.
Some will argue that it’s incompatible to compare a Bill Burr movie to Denys Arcand satires, but even the stupidest comedies usually have something to say about human behavior. A film as dumb as Jack & Jill dug in on the human condition and brotherly love, something Burr never does with Old Dads. Burr has nothing to say about any of the ho-hum written humor it presents: it only pushes buttons because it can and thinks complaining about political correctness is funny.
I’m not going to say it can’t be funny. We all have to learn to laugh at ourselves, and there are a few comedians who knowingly poke fun at a more progressive culture with a satirical eye so sharp it offends everyone (think of Ricky Gervais’ monologue at the 2020 Golden Globes or Mike Ward’s dark humor) from all walks of life and political ideologies.
But there’s a sharp difference between “laughing at the culture” and “insulting the culture.” Burr does the latter, thinking that transphobic statements and cheap potshots at illegal immigrants, with a slew of excessive bodily humor thrown in the mix, amounts to a funny comedy. It doesn’t, and there wasn’t a single scene where I found the humor to be poignant, or at least entertaining, despite decent performances from Burr and his actors.
Bokeem Woodbine and Bobby Cannavale are Entertaining, Despite Everything Around Old Dads
That’s the weirdest part about Old Dads: everyone seems to have a blast. Of course, Burr will have fun because it’s his film, but I particularly enjoyed Cannavale’s more freeing Connor, which is the complete personality opposite of Jack. Woodbine is unsurprisingly great as Mike, a complete 180 from the towering performance he gave in Elegance Bratton’s The Inspection, where he played a bone-chilling training instructor. Their chemistry is on top form, and the only reason why anyone would bother even sitting down and watching the movie is because the rest of it will only be funny to someone who watches FOX News daily and thinks the “woke mind virus” is destroying everything about culture, when it isn’t.
It’s funny how some comedians are saying, “We aren’t allowed to say anything without getting canceled.” Ward’s Supreme Court win over singer Jérémy Gabriel proves that comedians can’t get canceled if they make jokes and not potshots. The latter is not humorous, but offensive, and can’t be acceptable in today’s culture, where we are slowly growing as human beings in the hopes for a better society instead of regressing to consistently demeaning others. Jokes can be offensive for some people, but they remain jokes. If Burr would do this, Old Dads would be a funny movie.
Old Dads is now available to stream on Netflix. What did you think of Old Dads? Do you agree with the review? Let us know your thoughts about Old Dads and be sure to follow us on social media!