Directed by: Bill Burr
Premise: Three friends (Bill Burr, Bobby Cannavale, and Bokeem Woodbine) who have become fathers in late middle age struggle to raise their kids in a culture where values and parenting styles have changed.
What Works: Standup comic Bill Burr’s stage persona is built around being an angry and frustrated older man raging against the nonsense and self-righteousness of contemporary American culture. Olds Dads is intended to dramatize that idea and when it works that angle the film has the same appeal as Burr’s standup act. This is done well early on when Burr’s character is harassed by a teacher when he’s late picking up his child from school. He explodes and is forced to apologize to the entire body of parents under the guise of social justice but it’s really just a sadistic powerplay by the teacher. Burr is cast as one of three fathers, the others played by Bobby Cannavale, and Bokeem Woodbine, and each man is given a distinct identity. Cannavale’s character is desperate to hold onto his youth while Woodbine plays a man who unexpectedly becomes a father. All three of these guys are funny and they are convincing as old friends.
What Doesn’t: Comedy can get away with a looser narrative structure so long as it is funny but the story has to make internal sense and events must cohere together. Old Dads doesn’t do any of that. The film consists of a bunch of disconnected events. There’s no throughline. Bill Burr’s character wants to be a good dad—and he is—but the conflict comes from his values and demeanor. He doesn’t know how to be a social adult amongst these younger parents. That’s the obstacle he has to overcome but the filmmakers don’t recognize that. The movie alternates run-ins with parents and teachers and then shifts to an employment story in which the trio of friends are forced out of their own business, compounding the men’s marital problems. The various subplots don’t come together and Old Dads plays as just a bunch of scenes of Burr and his friends getting on people’s nerves. It’s not very funny and the movie loses the charm and gruff good heartedness that made Burr’s standup comedy so successful. As a filmmaker, Burr can’t manage the tone and Old Dads mashes together bawdy comedy with sentimentality. The whole thing falls apart in the ending in which subplots are concluded but not resolved. Burr and his friends haven’t really learned anything and the film hasn’t communicated anything meaningful to the audience.
Disc extras: Available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Old Dads starts off well enough but quickly loses its way. Even fans of Bill Burr have to acknowledge that this film doesn’t make good use of his comedy and persona.
Episode: #974 (November 19, 2023)