Thursday, February 24, 2011

Hall Pass
Offending Their Fantasies And Assaulting Their Realities

Jason Sudeikis as Fred and Owen Wilson as Rick in "Hall Pass", directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly
Warner Brothers

by Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW
Thursday, February 24, 2011

A week off from marriage, wife-approved. 

Married men of the world, you read that correctly!  Seven days to do *whatever* the hell you want.  Cheat with any woman.  Heck, your wife says you can.  Yep, she's dead serious.  She's not monitoring you like Julianne Moore did in "Chloe"No strings attached, either.  That's gotta be "okay", right?  Would you take her up on it, regardless of whether your marriage was working or not?

This scenario is played out to the wild, no-holds barred hilt in "Hall Pass", directed by brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly ("There's Something About Mary".)  Their new comedy opens across the U.S. and Canada tomorrow, with midnight shows in many U.S. cities tonight.    

Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) are married.  Rick makes the cardinal sin of looking at another woman's behind as she passes by -- in front of his wife Maggie (Jenna Fischer).  Wham.  Caught-red handed.  Rick didn't cheat, but he did.  Or did his "imagination" and male "impulses" wander?  Rick fumbles up an excuse or digs a deeper grave for himself.  Some of the men reading this know that feeling well, don't you?  And ladies, don't you enjoy seeing your husband squirm as he tries to climb out of his own self-manufactured abyss?

Rick and Fred have a group of male-bonding married buddies they shoot the breeze with.  These men aren't much better at discretion either, but each insists that his own domesticated life is pretty darn good.  You may think that they are lying through their teeth when you watch them in the Farrelly Brothers' playpen.  Like Chris Rock's film character, they think they love their wives.

Stripped down to its essentials "Hall Pass" is about two women who hand unlimited free candy to their adolescent child-husbands.  "For a week you can get into all of that sugar and spice, and get it out of you," they may as well say to Rick and Fred.  The effects of that sugar-spice sweetness is shown during ninety-six outlandishly funny minutes.  "Hall Pass" is intelligent enough to know that its two lead male characters are as foolish and shallow as an empty can of bug spray is against a tide of cockroaches. 

The comedy is funny enough to exploit the living daylights out of Rick and Fred's juvenile stupidity and fears.  Even more than "The Hangover" (except for that film's end credits), "Hall Pass" goes headlong into the deep end with its assortment of white male hang-ups and insecurities, and gets big laughs by relentlessly throwing before us what some are preoccupied with or curious about.  The Farrelly Brothers' m.o. in "Hall Pass" is: we think about these things, therefore we see them in living color, and laugh loudly as a way to assuage the fears and discomforts surrounding them.  Comedy is supposed to be a release valve to confront both hidden and evident truths, and when done right, shocks, nauseates and gets you to laugh -- and often.  Consider "Hall Pass" a success on all fronts.

The Farrellys have become masters at this line of work and sometimes it makes for thought-provoking satire as in "Shallow Hal", still the best film they've done.  "Hall Pass", their funniest, is often hilarious and offensive but doesn't offend the way "Sex And The City 2" did.  The latter film marginalized its targets while presenting four insular, mainly cardboard characters oblivious to every kind of environment around them while flaunting contempt for the terrain they walked on.  "Hall Pass" externalizes Fred and Rick's fears and plays them out in one week of "freedom" from commitment as a mid-life crisis fantasy-slash-nightmare.  The film ropes in the men in the audience (who will likely laugh more loudly and vigorously than the ladies will.)

Nicky Whelan as Leigh in "Hall Pass", directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly Warner Brothers

"Hall Pass" plays in the realm of comedies like "Zack And Miri Make A Porno" and makes explicit what satires like "Blazing Saddles" only hint at or verbalize.  In the end "Hall Pass" has a modicum of self-consciousness and behaves better than "I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell", the gross, self-indulgent, mean-spirited and callow account of Tucker Max's real-life misogynist misadventures.  "Hall Pass", by turns raunchy and raucous, is devastatingly funny without being disastrous.

The Farrellys' film is an ingratiating non-stop montage of insults and indulgences gone awry.  Rick and Fred don't exclude anyone from their freakish joyride.  All are welcome, including: the jealous, resentful "penis-blocker" (for want of a better phrase); the woman you may not "expect" to be with "that" guy; the man who thinks he has the ability to guess what kind of sex a woman enjoys just by looking at her.  You name the "oh no, they didn't!" possibility and the Farrellys call your bluff -- and handsomely.  Or horrendously.

What is markedly absent from "Hall Pass" however, is a sincere exploration of the other side of this coin of marital emancipation.  If the husbands are "relieved" from their responsibilities for seven days, then where does this leave their wives?  Doesn't it mean they can cheat too?  After all, the two ladies hold the cards and power, but more than that: they have no husbands to worry about.  A babysitter takes care of the little ones.  It would be foolish to think that somehow Maggie and Grace (Christina Applegate) could let Rick and Fred wanderlust their way into other women's temples but that they couldn't also do the same -- or at least entertain the idea.  Hardly a revelation here: women eyeball other men not their husbands or boyfriends every day, and often do so with their spouses or significant others standing right next to them.  They are just smarter and often more discreet about doing so.  And sometimes they aren't so subtle.  Is this not correct, ladies?

In one funny scene "Hall Pass" makes its two lead women seem mean or emasculating in a joke about their men and bedroom behavior.  This ephemeral moment is in service of the film's justification (and Maggie and Grace's) to let their men let loose on the town, more than it is any kind of female self-indictment.  Maggie and Grace play straight gals to these giddy galoots (a.k.a. 40-year-old 12 yr-old men) who outwardly and recklessly verbalize the thoughts many couples leave in the post-social-gathering car ride home.  Rick and Fred are as much wedded to each other in their pursuit of fleeting non-monogamous endeavors as they are to their wives, and that may or may not be saying much of anything.

Christina Applegate (left) as Grace, Tyler Hoechlin as Gerry, Jenna Fischer as Maggie and Bruce Thomas as
Rick in "Hall Pass"
Warner Brothers

Speaking of which, Maggie and Grace have been happily married for years to Rick and Fred, yet it's another woman, a doctor (Joy Behar), who tells them that her own rocky marriage has worked well since granting her husband his sexual freedom.  The flaw in the film is its predicate assumption that one male glance at a woman will necessarily destroy or severely trouble a marriage, a flimsy place from which to start a story.  An act of cheating, perhaps -- but one look? 

"Hall Pass", which gleefully flaunts its male chauvinism, is weakest when muting the freedom of the women married to these silly saps.  Though the film is about the two men, it shows its own insecurities and ambivalence most when it is afraid to get too close to more deeply exploring similar adultery opportunities for the fairer sex.  I wanted to see these episodes play out all the way.  The Farrellys bore through all the walls of comedic safety, so why not push even further while they are there?  (Unless that additional distance is travelled on the unrated Blu-Ray release that is sure to come by Memorial Day.)

"Hall Pass" has two levels of fear and hysteria: its male-fantasy fear-laden encounters with the opposite sex, and the unspoken fear that the women at home will also play hooky in the marriage.  Many of the "alternative" women on display among the cast of thousands in "Hall Pass" are a parade of exactitude -- bimbos or the physiologically incontinent.  There's no in-between.  You'd hope that the fantasyland of "perfect" women would include some smart, sophisticated ladies, and to an extent the directors play on this expectation with some tongue-in-cheek humor.  (At the same time, how can you take seriously any film that has only one kind of body type on its beaches?) 

All the energy "Hall Pass" invests in whooping up laughs at some of the most unstable women around could have been spread around to Maggie and Grace in their endeavors to get laid.  Even in the brief glimpses of sexual role-reversal, some grains (and grenades) of truth are tossed, stabbing home points about the sexist societal notion that older women are somehow less viable romantically or sexually.  Ventures like "your cheating heart" -- even with permission from the ladies (or from men to their ladies via "Indecent Proposal") always end up messy and complicated, and the Farrellys have a unique, messy way of showing it.

With an unconvincing resolution, "Hall Pass" is the male elastic band theory -- promoted by Men Are From Mars Women Are From Venus author John Gray among others -- but with nutty results.  In the attempt to escape or embrace temptation, the rebound back to the domestic castle will be fraught with anxiety, guilt and lighter strains of "After Hours" frenzy.  The Farrelly Brothers may be the all-outré equivalent to filmmaker Todd Solondz but with wider smiles and much heartier guffaws.  Like Mr. Solondz they won't shy away from anything, and you won't shy away from laughing at this zigzag craziness either.

With: Nicky Whelan, Richard Jenkins, Stephen Merchant, JB Smoove, Larry Joe Campbell, Derek Waters, Alexandra Daddario, Kristin Carey, Tyler Hoechlin, Bruce Thomas, Daniel Murphy, Rob Moran, Lauren Bowles, Andrew Wilson, Alyssa Milano, Carly Craig, Kaliko Kauahi.

"Hall Pass" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for crude and sexual humor throughout, language, some graphic nudity and drug use.  The film's running time is one hour and 36 minutes. 

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