Starring: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate
Runtime: 105 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
One thing can be said with certainty about the Farrelly brothers, Bobby and Peter (Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary, The Heartbreak Kid): they bear no comparison in style and content to those other brothers, Ethan and Joel Coen, although both in their own way can be seen as iconoclastic.
Hall Pass is about two married men with families, Rick (Owen Wilson, The Wedding Crashers) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis, Saturday Night Live), who believe like children that nobody can see the way they gawk, snigger and gesture obscenely at any good-looking woman who crosses their path.
Their wives Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Gracie (Christina Applegate), offended beyond measure by their husbands’ behaviour, despair of them ever growing up, until one day their friend ‘Dr Lucy’ (Joy Behar), a behaviour specialist, suggests that they offer their respective husbands a ‘hall pass’. This will allow them a week’s leave from marriage, in which they will have complete freedom to do whatever they want, with no questions asked.
In American jargon, a ‘hall pass’ is written permission from a teacher which allows a student to roam free in the ‘halls’ of the school. And fittingly in the case of the two grown-up ‘children’ Rick and Fred, the reasoning behind the pass is that allowed their sexual freedom for a week, the two husbands might discover that things are generally easier said than done, and that distant fields aren’t necessarily greener.
This premise proves to be right, while along the way providing graphic, frequently gross visual and spoken material that many people will find silly and/or morally offensive.
Standing back from the grossness (which includes extended eye-contact with the long and the short of male appendages and diarrhoea in a bath), it is possible to see Hall Pass as a coarse ‘safety valve’ comedy which gives permission for audiences to indulge in what for most people are forbidden, but never completely forgotten, impulses left over from childhood and early adolescence.
There is nothing very new in this: Greek dramatists made provision for such urges in their scatological comedies, and some might argue there is less harm in this than the gratuitous violence which is acceptable, even mandatory, in so many contemporary films.
Critical to the audience’s moral acceptance of Hall Pass’ goings on are the affable likeability of the two child-husbands who are shocked into growing up, and their wives’ own capacity for self-knowledge as well as forgiveness.
Australia’s Nicky Whelan (Neighbours, Scrubs) plays Rick’s object of desire, there is a relatively amusing cameo by Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, HBO’s Six Feet Under) as Rick and Fred’s guide into a tacky sexual ‘underworld’, and there are several madcap scenes (including a brief parody of Cape Fear) which should entertain those who laugh easily. Viewers are also advised to stay for the entire credits, lest they miss some surprises.
But those who like their outrageousness to be witty and original as well as genuinely satirical and subversive, should stick with Sacher Baron Cohen’s Borat or become addicted to French farce.
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