The Farrelly Brothers’ new comedy, Hall Pass, is about grown men having trouble moving on and is made, without irony, by a pair of grown film-makers who also seem to be having trouble moving on.
In that way it resonated sharply with me: the “roaring forties” are a difficult time when unwelcome facts of life (viz., the weighty hunch that best bits of it have been and gone) become harder to disregard. A popular gambit is denial: we believe we’ve still got the mojo, if only we were allowed to let it out. Hall Pass’s premise is a somewhat implausible calling of that particular bluff: alright boys: get it out of your system: you have a week to show you’re still, er, cock of the walk. Cue the riotous fun which ensues, right?
You guessed it.
The film is about as diverting, and about as challenging, as you’d expect for a films of this sub-genre. Praise, I suppose, but faint enough to look like damnation. Then again, I don’t usually go for frat-house comedies. I have no idea who does, really: but Hollywood keeps making them, so there must be some sort of natural constituency. (I can’t believe it’s purely the “John Major” middle ground of people at the video store who can’t agree on anything better).
It is a difficult film because, in an oil and water moment, the Farellies have tried to meld frat-house and romantic comedies (by way, perhaps, of trying to prove they’re growing up). If they get away with it, it is because Owen Wilson plays a likeable dad so well, but – again – faint praise.
Wilson’s Rick has a mildly wandering eye of the sort possessed by all males of all ages, and no more: he would never dream of acting on it. In a funny, if contrived, set piece he is observed riffing on this with his buddy Fred (Jason Sudeikis) in excruciating fashion on CCTV in front of some po-faced friends. Rick’s wife Maggie (Jenna Fischer) concludes, somewhat neurotically, that her marriage is on shaky grounds (patently, it isn’t) and that a swift corrective is needed. Fully implausible, but it’s a frat-com, so forgive it that. Upshot: Rick and Fred are granted the freedom from their marital vows for a week to get it out of their system (on the supposition they’ll be fully incapable of doing anything of the sort).
Thus we swiftly move into a predictable middle act: they guys and their frat buddies congregate enthusiastically and, as fore-saged, talk biiiiig but take no action, hang out at steak houses, chug beer and play golf under the influence of Stephen Merchant’s hash cookies (Merchant, as always, is funny: the golf scene otherwise isn’t). From here, for the boys, it all goes down hill.
The girls, on the other hand, repair to Cape Cod with the kids and hook up with a minor-league baseball team and have dazzling flirtatious fun-in-the-sun. From there, for the girls, it gets ever more complicated. Like you didn’t see that coming.
All this is so much hot air, and would be wholly unremarkable without sparkling characters or outrageous visual gags and comedic set pieces to provide punctuation. Of the former (outside Nicky Whelan’s Aussie barista babe, Leigh) there are few; of the latter, as you’d expect from the Farrelly brothers, there are plenty, one or two of the quality of those in Something About Mary (Wilson’s rescue from a spa bath by two nude men being one, the unfortunate plight of a girl with an upset tummy, in a thong, who “never vomits” being another).
There are also some spectacular scatalogical mishits (if you’ll excuse the visual pun): seeing a fat man taking a dump in a bunker on a golf course just lowers the tone: there wasn’t even a golfing pun to leaven it.
It’s an engaging enough film, I enjoyed it, certainly – but in targeting, as it does, incompatible audiences (those who like frat-coms and those who like rom-coms tend to be mutually exclusive) it runs a large danger of slipping without trace into the chasm between them.
Directors: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Stars: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate, Stephen Merchant
Runtime: 105 min