By Lynn Venhaus
This movie would work better as a stand-up routine, for taking Bill Burr’s familiar cranky white guy rant into a broader community setting makes for a chaotic buffet-style narrative that is mainly throwing jokes out there to see what lands.
Burr, who is a funny no-filter comedian that is reluctant to embrace societal change and unapologetic about his discomfort with woke mindsets, is often relatable about his struggles to fit in to the modern world.
“Old Dads” is about a middle-aged father and his two best friends after they sell their sports apparel company to a millennial. They find themselves out of step and behind the times as they struggle to navigate a changing world of culture, career, and fatherhood.
As Jack Kelly, a bitter 46-year-old but loving husband and father living in Woodland Hills, Calif., he’s not the only Gen X-Baby Boomer mired in the past, for his childhood buddies are not going gentle into the good night either.
Connor Brody, played in cookie-cutter mode by Bobby Cannavale, is an old dude trying to be hip and cool. Mike Richards, as played by Bokeem Woodbine, is content not to marry his girlfriend and doesn’t want more children because he has two grown Ivy League graduate sons by his ex-wife, is the most undeveloped and frustrating chauvinistic character.
There is humor in people not happy with anything past 1987 and the ever-changing times. But it also wears thin after incessant macho postering. Enough with anatomy jokes!
Dealing with competitive progressive pre-schools and parenting kids today is also ripe for mocking, especially tiptoeing around indulging, not disciplining, youngsters. And that is the movie’s saving grace, because helicopter parenting is ridiculous.
Burr’s belligerence can’t be softened, really, and that’s applauded by some while others cringe, such is the cultural zeitgeist these days. And don’t bring up white privilege to him. He’s good at poking fun at modern absurdities but does get carried away about victimhood (however, that’s his ‘schtick’).
As co-writer with Ben Tishler, Burr touches on many issues that are deemed offensive in today’s diverse, inclusive society that it becomes boorish midway and inexplicably, piles on lots o’ sex jokes. Why men behaving badly at a strip club that doubles down into Neanderthal territory is supposed to be some sort of epiphany? Clumsy at best, really stretching patience thin.
And are the sitcom antics of grown men not happy in their marriages still laugh-worthy? This is Burr’s directorial debut and he’s not convincing us, because the guys aren’t that likable with their self-centered stubbornness.
Oh sure, they love their wives and children, but do they really evolve beyond some supportive dialogue after a movie full of tirades? And parenting is only a fraction of this movie.
The wives, all beautiful, do show some gumption but they put up with a lot of icky. Katie Aselton is Jack’s pregnant wife Leah, Jackie Tohn is Connor’s controlling wife Cara, who speaks in psychobabble, and Reign Edwards is Mike’s pregnant wife Britney.
Now, what is funny is the changing workplace. When the three besties sell their business, they still show up for work, and it’s all New-Agey thinking on display. Playing the Millennial CEO Aspen Bell is Miles Robbins, who may look familiar because he is the son of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, and his comedic instincts are sharp. He’s believable and fun to watch, and when he helps the guys out in the third act, his storyline goes nowhere after that.
The movie is such a mixed bag that a discourse on smoking cigars and vaping goes on interminably – with Paul Walter Hauser in a cameo. And speaking of drive-by appearances, Bruce Dern is a looney ride-share service driver? C. Thomas Howell is a guy who goes off the grid in New Mexico groomed to be the new face of the company’s sportswear?
Funny bits about e-scooters and planning school benefits strike chords, but obviously “Old Dads” is specifically meant for an audience who’d rather armchair-quarterback life than go out there and make the most of the 2020s, enlightened or not.
“Old Dads” is a comedy directed by Bill Burr, starring Burr, Bobby Cannavale, Bokeem Woodbine, Rachael Harris, Miles Robbins, Katie Aselton, Reign Edwards and Jackie Tohn. It is rated R for pervasive language, sexual material, nudity, and brief drug use and runs 1 hour, 44 minutes. Streaming on Netflix starting Oct. 20. Lynn’s Grade: C-
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.