I became a father for the first time at age 40 and for the second time at 50, so I really identified with parts of Old Dads. Bill Burr, who directed and co-wrote, plays Jack Kelly, the 51-year-old father of a 5-year-old son. He’s got a second child on the way with wife Leah (Katie Aselton). Jack runs a sports jersey manufacturing business with his two longtime best friends. Connor Brody (Bobby Cannavale) has a 5-year-old, too, along with a demanding wife, Cara (Jackie Tohn). Mike Richards (Bokeem Woodbine) is a divorcee with a much-younger girlfriend named Britney (Reign Edwards) who has just stunned him with news of her pregnancy.
These dads are from Generation X, so they find themselves interacting with a private school system that’s much different from the public ones they attended. Curriculums are excessively concerned with political correctness. The parents of their children’s peers are in their late 20s or early 30s, with a worldview that is dominated by sensitivity concerns. They struggle to find common ground with these parents and educators.
The guys also hilariously have trouble adapting to new verbiage, as when the anger-prone Jack calls the preschool principal the c-word, only to be told by a horrified parent that using the word “is like the n-word, but for women.” His response: “I’m sure it is. Except for the 400 years of slavery and continued systemic oppression.” Old Dads uses such generational humor to touch on the change in parenting – and parents themselves - over the past few decades. Whereas Jack tells his boy to “rub some dirt” on a wound, another father comes and educates him on the value of Neosporin and emotional support after a minor injury.
If you don’t laugh at this material, you’re probably the type of person the movie is making fun of. A lot of non-P.C. comedy exists here, including a bit where Jack tries to come up with a theme for the school fundraiser that doesn’t offend any of the other parents on the committee. (One woman suggests the theme should be “the United States of Gender.”) When you’re a slightly older dad or mom, the modern touchy-feely approach to child-rearing and education can be baffling at times.
If Old Dads had stayed with that idea, it would have been a brilliant comedy. Unfortunately, it goes down a bunch of side roads that take the story totally away from its basic premise. There’s a whole subplot about the guys selling their business, only to regret the outcome. Another finds them trying to track down a hermit (C. Thomas Howell) living off the grid in the desert. Mike’s fear of commitment and Jack’s anger management problem additionally suck up time better spent focusing on fatherhood.
That last part is the biggest disappointment of the film. Old Dads ends with the suggestion that Jack’s attitudes aren’t really out of sync with current thinking but rather a byproduct of his anger. It feels like a cop out. Parenting philosophies are somewhat different today than they were twenty years ago, thanks to increased awareness of racial/gender issues, shifting sociopolitical factors, and technological advances that have introduced new challenges previous generations didn’t have to deal with. Why not have old-school Jack learn to embrace those things? Or, to go an edgier route, reject them altogether? Either would be preferable to the wishy-washy finale we actually get.
A number of big laughs can be found in the picture, yet the refusal to stick with its central idea grows frustrating.
out of four
Old Dads is rated R for pervasive language, sexual material, nudity, and brief drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 44 minutes.