A film review by Craig J. Koban March 2, 2011

HALL PASS jjj
½ 

2011, R, 104 mins.

 

Rick: Owen Wilson / Fred: Jason Sudeikis / Maggie: Jenna Fischer / Grace: Christina Applegate / Leigh: Nicky Whelan / Coakley: Richard Jenkins

Directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly / Written by Pete Jones and Peter Farrelly

HALL PASS is a comedy that understands two undeniable truths about the male psyche: (1) we always seem to be thinking about women and sex and (2) we sure like to talk a dirty game about scoring with babes, but when we are given a clear attempt to literally follow through, we are oftentimes hapless failures.   

The film is about two socially uncoordinated and deluded middle-aged fools who are endlessly frustrated by the prison of married life that, through some help from their wives, are given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tumble back into the single scene so that they can work out their sexual frustrations.  The hilarious aspect about their “quest” is that, once freed from the constraints of marriage, they are still completely trapped by their horribly inept abilities to meet women.

The men in question here are Rick (Owen Wilson), a real estate agent with a horrible fashion sense, and Fred (Jason Sudeikis), a smarmy life-insurance salesman that confidently talks dirty behind his wife’s back, but that just masks his own insecurity about his own dweebiness.  They are both happily married and live painfully mundane suburban family lifestyles.  Rick has been married to Maggie (Jenna Fischer) for two decades and has three young kids, but the stress and toil of work and raising the tykes makes their sex life borderline non-existent.  Fred is married to Grace (Christina Applegate) and they have no children, but they also have vacant sex lives, mostly because Grace purposely fakes sleeping to avoid having sex.  Not a good sign. 

All of this leads to Rick and Fred feeling like they have been emasculated.  They deeply love their respective wives and would never dream of cheating on them, but they nonetheless feel like their oversized libidos have not been fed in a long time, mostly because family life has somehow neutered them.  While spending one day in the park and gazing at all the unattainably hot young women that parade around them, the depressed pair lament about their youth when they were on the prowl and how now they will never, ever be able to sleep with another woman.  All they have is their immature sex fantasies: Fred is tempted by his 20-going-on-21 babysitter and is seriously tempted by a gorgeous Australian barista at his local coffee shop (Nicky Whelan), but he is a softy at heart with a good moral center and never acts on his impulses.  Fred, on the other hand, curbs his hungers in…uh…other ways.  Let’s just say that the solitude of sitting in his car turns him on. 

Their wives are no dummies: they begin to notice how disillusioned their husbands have become, not to mention that they catch them far too often ogling women that walk by them.  Maggie and Grace then decide to take a big leap of faith in the form of some advice from a friend and pop psychologist: They will give their husbands a week off from marriage, a “hall pass”, so that they can do whatever they please – including having sex with other woman – in an effort to curtail their marital frustrations and have them return as even more happy and content spouses.  Rick and Fred are elated and jump at their newfound freedom as their wives back up and head out of town on their own personal vacations, but things start awkwardly for the husbands and never fully recovers.

 

 

HALL PASS is the tenth film by the Farrelly Brothers, Peter and Bobby, who made two of the funniest films I’ve ever seen in KINGPIN and THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY.  The have fearlessness as comedic directors: no subject matter is too untouchable (their films have included everything from the morbidly obese, chronic schizophrenics, the mentally and physically handicapped, multiple amputees, conjoined twins, serial killers, sex starved Amish men, albinos, stalkers with foot fetishes, and, yes, Brett Favre).  It should be noted, though, that the Farrellys never mercilessly mock or attack their targets: they laugh with them, not at them.  They stretch the boundaries of political incorrectness with bawdy shock and awe gags, but the key with them is that they create personas that we like and inspire our sympathy.  These characters are often forced to engage – sometimes unwillingly – in a series of socially calamitous incidents, which is why the gross out pratfalls perpetrated on them work: we feel for them as victims, in a way, which makes their predicament even for perversely funny. 

Just consider Rick and Fred, as played by the very well cast and teamed Wilson and Sudeikis.  Wilson knows how to make his fortysomething husband/father a quiet figure of introverted desperation that has a geeky amiability: he is a gentle and soft spoken soul, which makes his attempts to hook up with and bed women so uproarious (he has no clue how pathetically out-of-touch he is with the times).  Sudeikis, on the other hand, is a nice foil to Wilson for harnessing Fred’s outwardly cocky and confident demeanor, but all of that is just for show because he's inwardly just as awfully incompetent with women as his bromate.  The hilarity of their situation arises not only for how domesticated they are in marriage, but also for how they manage to subvert themselves even further – even when they don’t know it – during their week of freedom.  When it comes right down to it, these men are sweet and sentimental, even when they urgently try to battle against those impulses. 

True to Farrelly Brothers form, HALL PASS mixes in-your-face raunch and observational comedy to riotous effect.  Rick and Fred's efforts, along with their other friends (they just want to witness them in their week of independence) are amusingly inept, seeing has they have completely lost their instincts when it comes to the art of seduction (like when they eat themselves nearly to sleep at Applebee’s…at only 9pm...and mistake it for an adequate hook-up joint).  A later scene shows them gorging on pot-infused brownies that has some unintended results.   There is also a scene at a bar when Rick and Fred decide that getting hammered will make it easier for them to pick up woman, which leads to a montage of some of the most side-splittingly feeble pick-up lines ever.   Beyond that, there's a running gag involving a very creepy and implausibly jealous barista that works with the Aussie goddess that Rick is sweet on that snowballs to unimaginable levels, not to mention an extremely funny fantasy sequence (well into the closing credits) that shows Stephen Merchant (playing one of Rick and Fred’s pals) where he flash forwards and imagines what a hall pass for him would be like.  The great Richard Jenkins (a Farrelly Brothers regular that, as of late, has been more known for understated dramatic roles) also appears as a over-tanned, hyper-horny, and annoyingly rich hedonist that shows Fred and Rick all of the tricks of the trade to picking up gals, like how ugly women put themselves amidst uglier women to make themselves look prettier.  Hmmmm....interesting. 

I guess the temptation for the Farrellys is to top each of the most notoriously scandalous and outrageous moments from their previous films, and HALL PASS is no exception (it’s very appropriately rated R).  Yet, for as puerile as some of the jokes are here, the Farrellys at least deserve points for daring to be original.  HALL PASS marks the first time that I have seen a father in a film, for example, accuse his own daughter of “cock blocking” him against his wife.   Also a first is a character miming a vagina (with his hands) singing "Home On The Range".  Perhaps even more disturbingly funny is a moment when Rick is rescued from drowning in a sauna (don’t ask) by two nude men that completely redefines face-to-face encounter.  A definition of "fake chow" (hint: it involves oral sex) is explained and then later shown.  One moment in particular is jaw-droppingly astonishing, not just for how crass and disgusting it is, but also for its innovation.  I will say this: it involves fecal matter that achieves a velocity that I’ve never seen on screen before.   

Again, all of these wantonly vulgar and squirm-inducing moments would not be as funny if they did not involve characters that we respond to and ultimately like.  Plus, there is an element of truth here about the nature of marriage, relationships, and monogamy that gives HALL PASS a sweetness amidst all the litany of debauchery.   Rick and Fred come to the realization – even when one is faced with insurmountable sexual enticement – that they are just simple, decent-minded, and devoted husbands that yearn for their wives.  The wives themselves are not presented as one-note nags to serve the obligatory elements of the plot: they are actually more self-actualized and comfortable within their own skins.  Even when their own sub-plots involving potential flings with college baseball players on their own week of freedom seems underwritten at best, Fischer and Applegate are so good at light comedy and being naturally winning screen presences that you are willing to forgive these narrative qualms. 

Most importantly, though, I laughed and laughed very hard all throughout HALL PASS, and sometimes I found myself embarrassed by what I laughed at.  Yet, like the best comedies from the Farrelly catalogue, once I started laughing it became infectious.  HALL PASS is crudely scatological in mass dosages, but it also builds to moments of legitimate feel-good warmth and sentimentality, and the Farrellys show here how they can pull it off so effectively.

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