Late-blooming comedian Bill Burr steps behind the camera for this Netflix comedy that's pretty standard and broad, but showcases his gift for cultural beefs and snark.
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Just a very quick review of “Old Dads," Bill Burr’s directorial debut in a film he also wrote with Ben Tishler. Netflix struggled to get me a working screener all week and I ended up just watching it early Friday morning.
This is a pretty standard-issue, broad comedy with a familiar theme: partying bros who got old and lame. It’s essentially another iteration of “Old School” and “Wild Hogs,” and is about on that level quality-wise. As you might guess from the title, it particularly deals with guys who didn’t become fathers until rather late in life.
It’s roughly autobiographical of the real life of Burr, a self-professed rage machine who didn’t really get his act together until he was into his 40s. His finally breaking out as an A-list comedian, who also takes plenty of side acting gigs, also coincided with his marrying and becoming a dad.
As someone who also didn’t start having kids until his 40s, I often relate to Burr’s stand-up — at least the stuff about the struggles of carving out space enough for a partner and children after you’ve become set in your ways. He also has a way of talking about generational and cultural beefs in a way I don’t usually jibe with, but still find funny and daring.
I’m sort of amazed that Burr hasn’t flirted with cancelation like some of his peers such as Dave Chapelle. He has a way of letting you know he’s on your side while calling out the B.S. of our times.
His stand-in character is Jack Kelly, a 51-year-old guy happily married to his wife, Leah (Katie Aselton), with a young boy he just adores and another baby on the way.
His two lifelong buds are also his business partners: Bokeem Woodbine is Mike, living the middle-aged man/boy dream with grown kids and a much younger wife who’s, in his words, only interested in going to the gym and having sex; and Connor (Bobby Cannavale), whose ingratiating bro-dude manner hides a raging insecurity about growing old and uncool.
The best parts of the movie are these three guys hanging out, ripping on each other and griefing about living in a culture that is disdainful of their 1980s-bred alpha-male ways. They get to take a couple of road trips to sow (regrow?) their wild oats, which ends up being eye-opening in the wrong way. Bruce Dern turns up as a peevish old rideshare driver that Jack recognizes as his future, if he doesn’t shape up.
The true formula to dad happiness is 1) loving your spouse and kids with all your might, 2) stop worrying about being cool, and 3) not caring what other people think. I’m doing pretty good on the first two but am working on the third.
Jack keeps getting into confrontations with other people centered around a combination of our modern society’s inability to MYOB and his inability to just shut up and go with the flow.
One is with the snidely tyrannical head of his kid’s hoity-toity pre-K school (Rachael Harris), who like a lot of people who preach inclusivity is actually all about aggrandizing power and squashing differing modalities. Another is the new 27-year-old boss (Miles Robbins) at the throwback jersey company Mike, Jack and Connor used to own but sold off to cash in and pay for their kids’ private schools and/or lifestyle upgrades.
(Mike uses his cheddar to buy a fully-loaded Ford Fusion, a model they don’t even make anymore, which you’d have to be a car guy to understand its full funniness.)
Of course, Jack’s entire life is just one long string of such micro-aggressions that usually turn macro. Eventually it catches up with him and his wife throws him out of the house.
There’s a decent amount of laughs in “Old Dads,” and plenty of vinegary cultural observations, too. I’m similarly situated to Jack/Burr and share the gripe about living in a fast-changing society that’s increasingly telling older white dudes not just to listen more but STFU.
In the end, though, it’s a by-the-book comedy that looks like it could’ve sprung forth from a UCLA screenwriting class, with all the expected emotional beats and story swings. You can practically smell Jack’s mad dash at the end to save his marriage and soul coming a long way off.
I think any Bill Burr fan will find it a must-see to revel in his signature shtick of ‘basically good guy who comes across as a mouthy a-hole.’ For everyone else it’s take it or leave it, which is how most people regard middle-aged fathers anyway.