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Hall Pass is about and for a certain type of woman, the type of woman who believes that the way she thinks about sex is the only correct way; the type of woman who thinks her husband should be forced to like sex in the same way she likes it; the type of woman who prefers to live in a bubble of rom-com ignorance, rather than embrace the differences between men and women as part of human nature.
At one point early on in the film Jenna Fischer’s Maggie, in an attempt shame her husband Rick (played by Owen Wilson) for his inability to think about sex in the same way she does, shouts “I like sex because it’s special to me!”. She doesn’t seem to realize it, I’m not even sure the Farrelly brothers (directing together yet again) realized it, but her rant seems a clear indicator that not only does she not like sex, Maggie’s probably never had an orgasm. When Rick attempts to explain that men simply think differently than women, Maggie’s answer is to throw up her hands and give him a hall pass. A “hall pass” is when one spouse gives the other spouse a break from marriage, permission to sleep with other people for a specified period of time, without consequences. Maggie hands one out to Rick, not because she’s open-minded and understanding of the male libido, but as a passive-aggressive punishment designed to trick her husband into doing something she knows will make her upset. It seems clear that Maggie has decided that if Rick, who’s always been faithful and seems to truly love her, can’t think the way she wants him to then she’d rather be alone. This part should probably have been played by Katherine Heigl. Jenna Fischer does the best she can, but even at her worst she’s just too damn likable.
Jenna almost makes it seem sweet when Maggie tries to convince herself that she’s doing this to save their marriage, but that’s not really what’s going on here. Her marriage never needed saving. Rick, despite his bad case of blue balls, is utterly dedicated to his family. One look at Maggie’s body language will tell you that if Rick actually uses the hall pass his wife will fall apart and that’ll be the end of Maggie and Rick. Rick, however, manages to convince himself that it’s for real and so he sets out on a week of babe hunting with his buddy Fred (Jason Sudeikis), whose equally distraught wife Grace (Christina Applegate) has handed him a week off from fidelity too. Hall Pass, much like Rick himself, spends a lot of time trying to convince the audience that marriage break is real, and so it fails to notice the disastrous dynamic building up inside these marriages, even as it creates it. It’s a comedy, so maybe you think doesn’t have to, but it’s a comedy that’s chosen to build itself on some pretty heavy issues, issues which it’s all for addressing with some pretty horrible ideas about the way relationships work. For the Farrelly brothers, it’s not a good mix.
Hall Pass is also about a certain type of man, the type of man who abandons everything he is in order to do whatever his wife wants. It’s a movie dedicated to that tired, worn out, comedy cliché that all men are helpless idiots who, left to their own devices, will end up covered in barbecue sauce and sleeping behind an Applebees dumpster where they’ll wait until a woman shows up, holds their hand, and tells them what they’re supposed to be doing with their lives. Thirty years ago women were cast in this same role. For the past fifteen or so it’s been pretty much the domain of men and by now, aren’t we all tired of it? I liked this better when it was called Everybody Loves Raymond. Ladies, you’ve gotten your revenge. Let’s move on.
At one point Hall Pass comes close to acknowledging just how wrong and worn out this notion of male impotence is when, in a conversation about their frustrated lives, Fred points out to Rick that their wives are living their dreams. Our wives grew up playing with dollhouses, Fred says, and we bought them a house! Our wives grew up dreaming of getting married, and we married them! Our wives grew up dreaming of having kids, and our penises put children in them! When do we get to live our dreams, Fred asks, while realizing that he hasn’t gotten any of the things he wanted out of life because he’s been so busy making sure Grace stays happy.
The problem at the root of this story is that while their wives control their every action, they can’t control their husband’s minds, and the notion that there’s even the smallest part of Fred and Rick that’s still unowned frightens Maggie and Grace. The hall pass is borne out of that insecurity, a scheme concocted to prove their husbands’ pathetic, and perhaps convince their men to abandon that one, last, shred of dignity inside them, the same shred of dignity that made Fred, for only a moment, wonder what happened to his dreams. I’m not giving anything away here to tell you that by the end of the film Hall Pass has come down clearly on the side of the wives, and the film ends when Fred and Rick decide to kill that part of themselves off. Of course, they can’t, and we walk away knowing what they don’t; that nothing has really changed and this whole story has been for naught. I predict Maggie and Rick will be back on their couch having this same fight all over again next Tuesday.
Couples like the ones in Hall Pass exist. You’ve probably been trapped at the table across from them in a Denny’s, or maybe your sister who spent her entire childhood planning the perfect wedding, has become party to this special form of marital misery. You know these people, and making a movie about those people could have worked except, well, Hall Pass seems to be trying to make a case that those people should be all people. Fred and Rick have suborned themselves to their wives and now spend their hours being led around by them, fearing them, humiliating themselves for them, catering to their every whim and the movie eventually leads us down a path where they’re forced to admit that’s the only way to live. Is that funny? Not really, not ever, no matter how many ass jokes you punctuate it with.
The Farrelly Brothers have said they believe Hall Pass is a chick flick, and while that may sound like a strange possibility from the guys best known for movies revolving around masturbation pranks and other Jackass-level idiocy, in this case it’s actually true. Hall Pass works in plenty of poop jokes, but the plot of the thing, the real purpose behind it all is something else entirely. The real meat of this film’s story seems to be constructed around confirming the cliché, mostly incorrect, romantic lies women raised on Julia Roberts movies believe about men to make themselves feel better. It’s a strange audience to target since, the soccer moms in that very specific crowd are almost certain to run screaming from the theater the first time Jason Sudeikis talks about his penis, let alone actually sit through an entire scene where two men thrust their naked naughty parts at his head.
Sure it’s just a big dumb comedy, and it’s funny at times, but repetitive too. How often can you mine the same surveillance gag for laughs in the same film? The Farrelly Brothers’ answer is twice… every five minutes. Even while you’re laughing you’ll get the sense that the Girls Gone Wild reject who just blasted brown goo all over the shower wall only did it to make sure the men in the audience were awake, paying attention, and open to some form of subtle brain-washing.
None of it’s really part of any larger attempt to create something comedic and if you do find yourself smiling, it won’t last. It’ll only be a minute or two before Hall Pass abandons the comedic genius of Stephen Merchant (if you’ve gone through the trouble to buy a ticket, might as well stick around until after the credits for an entire sequence involving Merchant, it’s the funniest thing in the film) or JB Smoove and gets back to the business of telling women that all the lies it thinks they want to believe about men are absolutely true, because hidden behind the scatology, that’s what this comedy’s really here to do.