March 1, 2011

Movie Review: Hall Pass

Based on the trailers, I was not so sure this was going to be any good. It certainly looked like it would provide a few laughs, but is that what we really want? Have we been so trained to merely want a few laughs and nothing else? Yes, I recognize the fact that a movie that does nothing other than make me laugh can be good for me, but the line shouldn't be drawn there. What I like are those movies that generate laughs as well as provide some substance. It doesn't have to be much, it doesn't need to be unpredictable, nor does it need to be terribly insightful. All I ask is for a little bit of substance told in a genuine fashion.

As it turns out Hall Pass fills the bill. It is not the best of its kind, nor is it destined to be remembered as a classic, but what it is is very funny with a genuine emotion streak running though its center. The movie was made by a couple of guys who have had a history of raunchy comedies with heart, the Farrelly Brothers. This is probably the best movie from the duo in years. Frankly, I had kind of forgotten about them after movies like Stuck on You, The Heartbreak Kid, and Fever Pitch. Sure, they had a couple of funny moments, but nothing that matched earlier outings like Dumb and Dumber, or even more importantly There's Something About Mary.

In the intervening years Judd Apatow and his camp have risen to power and left their mark on raunchy comedy with heart with the likes of The Forty Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. That brings us back to Hall Pass, it may say Farrelly Brothers next to "Director" but it feels a lot more like an Apatow production. This is not a bad thing, perhaps it is the start of the next stage int he brothers cinematic growth. No, not ripping off others, but a maturing look at the world of raunchy comedy and the real emotion that drives it.

Hall Pass takes a look at marriage and the common idea that men are in a constant state of arrested development. Add in the belief that the only thing between hot and sexy women and the middle aged husband is his wife and you have the basis for this movie. It is a movie that examines this idea and shows that not everything is as it seems and that reality does not always align with the fantasy.

The story goes thusly, Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) are middle-aged family men in suburban Portland and, as all men do, allow their eyes to stray from their wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate, respectively). The women, fed up with dealing with their child-like spouses give them a hall pass. This means they have one whole week off from marriage to do whatever they want with whoever they want.

The wives take the kids and head off to stay with relatives while Rick, Fred, and a few spectator friends embark on their week of sexual conquest free of any repercussions. I don't really want to get into details, but as the movie is rather predictable, and based on the trailers, I am sure you can guess how the movie is going to go.

Yes, this is not a movie that is going to surprise you in the directions it goes. What it banks on, and what works, is its ability to get big laughs from lowbrow comedy while keeping you involved with the characters themselves. It is as movie populated with characters that have more depth than you would expect, if you want to see it. It would be easy to gloss over it and just laugh at the comedy, which is fine, but the characters are what make this movie worthy of revisiting.

The comedy is crass and vulgar, it is over the top and not always realistic, it is also terribly predictable. Why do I like it? Well, it is well executed. It may lose some narrative steam in the latter third but it still has laughs and the final moments stick a pin in the heart solidifying its presence. Watching these guy believe they are alpha male types compared to the reality of their lives is pretty funny. The wool is removed from their eyes as they realize they are not quite the top dogs they like to pretend to be. Also, to see the women struggle with the hall pass too is quite interesting. No one gets shortchanged.

I like the movie. Not great, far from perfect, but it is laugh out loud funny, and I like the arc. Jason Sudeikis is pretty darn funny and Jenna Fischer needs more movie work. Owen Wilson seems to be poking fun at himself and does a decent job, quite a bit different than his role in the recent How Do You Know.

See it, laugh, enjoy.... or don't. I know I like it.


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