Bill Burr’s Directorial Debut: Shocking Twist in ‘Old Dads’ Will Leave You Speechless

“Old Dads” boasts an impressive cast, but it falls short of being a fully realized movie. It’s a missed opportunity, considering it marks Bill Burr’s directorial debut. While primarily known as a comedian, talk show guest, and podcaster, Burr has carved out a niche as one of the standout stand-up comedians turned actors of his generation. He consistently delivers performances in films and TV series that transcend the ordinary, at times even leaving a lasting impression. His portrayal of Migs Mayfield, a former Imperial sharpshooter turned mercenary in “The Mandalorian,” stands as one of the show’s high points, reminiscent of Christoph Waltz’s final scene in “Django Unchained.”

When stand-up comedians take on the dual role of directing themselves with their own material, there’s a risk of creating something that feels like an elongated stand-up routine awkwardly fitted with characters and a fragment of a plot. This often results in a lack of a distinct style and viewpoint that would allow the work to stand on its own merits, rather than feeling like a mere extension of their comedy brand. “Old Dads,” which revolves around three middle-aged men in Los Angeles becoming fathers decades after giving up on the idea, unfortunately falls into that category.

Similar to “F is for Family,” the animated Netflix series created by Burr, and much of his early stand-up before his shift towards introspection and nuance, “Old Dads” predominantly functions as a satirical take on “political correctness.” This term, frequently explored in stand-up, often revolves around the idea that one can’t speak freely without facing repercussions. However, a significant portion of the film takes a detour into the realm of a meandering midlife-crisis buddy movie.

After selling the vintage sports jersey replica business they co-founded, the partners are retained as employees and are compelled to witness the termination of anyone born before 1988. This could have been a potential goldmine for an age discrimination lawsuit, but the movie treats it as a fait accompli. Subsequently, “Old Dads” transforms into a parody of 21st-century tech culture and new media stereotypes. The young aspirational guru-like boss, Aspin Bell (Miles Robbins), bombards his older colleagues with disruptive cultural jargon while constructing a cult of personality around himself.

As if that wasn’t enough to push the confrontational and self-righteous Jack Kelly into a fit of rage, he and his wife Linda (Kate Aselton) encounter difficulties at their son’s exclusive New Age-inspired private school. The clash arises because Jack’s parenting style is firmly rooted in the ’70s and doesn’t align with the school’s staff, administrators, and other parents, who are a group of soft progressive Yuppies teaching children to prioritize emotions and sensitivities over everything else.

The “political correctness” segment of “Old Dads” comes across as a watered-down and somewhat self-aware version of the TV specials that cater to political reactionaries and gave rise to the “triggered” meme. It employs a familiar playbook seen in a lot of post-millennium Los Angeles-based comedy, aiming for easy laughs by having characters utter inappropriate remarks at inconvenient moments. Then, other characters, often Linda, step in to explain that such behavior is no longer acceptable, subtly nudging the audience to feel that the world is constraining the politically incorrect character’s style. “Old Dads” laments how excessively sensitive society has become.

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