DIRECTED BY THE FARRELLY BROTHERS
STARRING: OWEN WILSON, JASON SUDEIKIS, JENNA FISCHER, CHRISTINA APPLEGATE, NICKY WHELAN, ALEXANDRA DADDARIO, STEPHEN MERCHANT, JOY BEHAR, LARRY JOE CAMPBELL and RICHARD JENKINS
The Farrelly Brothers have the inimitable knack of giving you a less-than-perfect version of their film. I don’t know why they do it, but they do it. They’re champions at it. They’re like kings at blue-balling people. All their films have a remarkable central agenda which they address (and fairly well at that) as much as their self-induced cheapness permits them to. ‘Shallow Hal’ dealt with a man’s inherent dread of going with a ‘less-than-attractive’ woman. They chased high-school love in ‘There’s Something about Mary’; even ‘the Heartbreak Kid’ was on a middle-aged man’s discontent about his relationships.
No, I’m not trying to romanticize their work over here. I’m actually telling you how much they don’t want you to. They would do anything to make sure you don’t have fond memories of their film when you’re done watching it. Anything. You’d be amazed. They’d show you penises of different shapes and sizes and colours, they would make a full-grown man defecate in a golf bunker, they would show a woman do the same on a bathroom wall and have someone ogle at it like it were artwork. I don’t know if this makes them the vilest of human beings in the world or if I’m just not a sport because I don’t take their shit. Literally.
Or I don’t know if they’re masters at pastiche who make you laugh your gut out one second and then trigger the same reaction the next, except it’s not out of laughter this time. They’re disengaging with such deliberation. It’s like they’re on a mission.
What’s even worse is that they do these things to really likeable people. And characters. You could put Jason Sudeikis in a sticky situation like this, but not Owen Wilson. Maybe Jeff Anderson, but not Seth Rogen. You see what I’m saying? Or maybe it’s just me. I thought ‘Horrible Bosses’ had it right in that it kept aside the best of its disengaging humour to Sudeikis and a little of Charlie Day but never Bateman. Because he just wouldn't do. He wouldn’t have been appropriate to be in an inappropriate position. Neither was Owen Wilson, I thought. Of course, I find that I’m talking more people than characters here. In my defence, the film stuck to their usual screen-selves. It was a Steve Coogan thing once. I guess it should be called a ‘Sudeikis thing’ from now. He’s the one who’s typecast more. Coogan at least has ‘Night at the Museum’ to his credit.
‘Hall Pass’ is about Rick Mills (Wilson) and Fred Searing (Sudeikis) who are given a ‘hall pass’ by their wives Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate) respectively. A ‘hall pass’, as we learn, is a week of freedom from marriage extended to a man by his wife to let him accomplish everything that he believes his marriage is keeping him off from. Or find that he can’t. In Rick and Fred, we have two kinds of men – one who’s disappointed that he can’t pick up other women and one who wants to. It’s much like the difference between Maggie and Grace themselves. Maggie finds she wanted a break from her marriage. Grace finds use for one. The two couples are written in stone on this script that wants them to get back together in this road trip towards each other.
There are no collisions, no discomforts. There is absolutely no irreparable damage. Nothing happens to the two couples to alter their courses even by an inch, the most disturbing event in one’s married life passes off as a beer joke. On the one hand, I was startled at how easily the Farrelly brothers could take in the premise (conceptualized by Pete Jones). On the other, I was annoyed at how easily they threw it away and how their film played along like a shameless farce. It was like double-indemnity but the contextual opposite. And what can make it worse? A Grand Theft Auto with the police involved and a psycho in the middle who simple had to be there. And a hospital scene. Yes, it had it all.
‘Hall Pass’ thus, like every Farrelly fare, is an idiot’s treatment of a serious premise involving characters who deserve more. There’s more happening with these people than what they show you, what’s going on is not just what they say is going on. There’s more to the film than what you just saw, something its makers can’t handle. A stronger film would have had a confrontation saying “Whose Hall Pass is it? Yours? Or mine?” This one drops a line at best. But hey, at least they mentioned it! It’s that line that saved some face. Without it, we’re talking reimbursement. Of time and energy lost in deliberate ‘stupid.’