The Farrelly Bros made an interesting decision when they filmed Hall Pass: they decided not to make it that funny. They put in some jokes, for sure, and some of them are even pretty good to great, but they opted to play much of the movie fairly straight. They seemed to be going for chuckles or smiles of the ‘I can relate to that’ variety more than belly laughs.
That would be commendable if Hall Pass wasn’t just an episode of a sitcom stretched out to feature length. This is a story that The King Of Queens or Everybody Loves Raymond could have wrapped up in 22 minutes, and it would have had the exact same obvious conclusion that this movie has. Everything is so rote that you’re just counting down the minutes until the guys see the error of their ways and go running back to the arms of their smart, beautiful and inhumanly patient wives.
Like most modern sitcoms and beer commercials, Hall Pass is predicated on the idea that the married man is essentially a 16 year old moron at heart. Coasting on memories of his single days and the fading tail end of the dominant macho culture of ages past, these Tim Allen types talk a big game but are actually pussywhipped dolts who don’t realize how much they rely on their wives for everything. It’s masculine infantalization with the wife stepping into the mother role. You know the type - it’s the guys in beer commercials who for some reason have to hide out from their wives to enjoy watered down Bud Light.
Anyway, the stupid concept at the center of the movie has the wives of inoffensively juvenile idiots Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis fed up with the men’s constant staring at strange women and give them a week off from marriage. The advice comes from a therapist played by Joy Behar, who is so bad at acting that she is unable to make standing around a buffet table look convincing.
While this concept could be the centerpiece of a truly raunchy, crazy film - you know, the kind of movie the Farrellys made once upon a time - Hall Pass prefers to predicate the joke on the idea that these guys spend most of their week off from marriage failing at even getting started on attempting to get laid. They go to Applebees to pick up chicks, they eat too many pot brownies on the golf course, they end up too drunk at a bar to even hit on anybody, etc etc etc.
But there’s a twist! While the men are failing at their week off from marriage the wives are away and succeeding. Jenna Fischer, playing a thankless, humorless, harridan role, finally comes to the film’s thesis: “This hall pass wasn’t for him… It was for me.”
For the first half of the film I thought Hall Pass was PG-13. It’s mild, it’s light, it avoids the f-bomb. Then, in the last act, the movie realizes that it needs to actually get some jokes and stuff in there, and we end up with bare boobs and oral sex and sharting. I don’t know that it’s too little too late, but it does give the film a weirdly lopsided quality.
The laughs that are in the film work. The Farrelly Bros know comedy, especially of the physical variety; when Owen Wilson passes out in a hot tub and is rescued by a naked black man with a huge cock that hangs in our hero’s face, it’s shot flawlessly. But they seem to be more interested in the ‘learning a lesson’ variety of comedy that was definitely not a part of their best work. All of the film’s observations on married life feel trite, and there are weird parts of the movie that mount vigorous defenses for boring, square suburban life. The movie’s only bad guy is a coffee shop hipster who, aping the finale of There’s Something About Mary, escalates his douchebaggery into weird, over the top violence.
Owen Wilson is fine in the film; there’s something poignant about the Butterscotch Stallion being trapped in suburbia, and after his well-publicized personal issues you have to wonder if he doesn’t feel just as trapped in real life. Jason Sudeikis is a buffoon, but rarely irritating. The real MVPs in the movie are Stephen Merchant - a dream sequence about what his hall pass could lead to is almost worth the price of admission, and feels like the movie I wish the Farrellys had made - and Richard Jenkins. In a superb bit of weird casting Jenkins appears as the successful photographer friend of the leads, who also happens to be an international pussyhound of the highest degree. Jenkins is all sorts of wrong for the role, which of course makes him all sorts of right.
When Hall Pass is going for laughs it tends to get them, but too much of the film is heartfelt. I don’t know that heartfelt is what the Farrellys are good at, and so much of the film is like watching a boxer with his good hand behind his back. When he lands punches they’re great, but he’s not living up to his potential. Hall Pass, like every crummy sitcom, never challenges or transcends the expected but rather reinforces the little boxes in which unhappily married suburban men live.