A film review by Craig J. Koban March 2, 2011
2011, R, 104 mins.
2011, R, 104 mins.
Rick: Owen Wilson / Fred: Jason Sudeikis / Maggie: Jenna
Fischer / Grace: Christina Applegate / Leigh: Nicky Whelan / Coakley:
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.