Thursday, 3 March 2011
Stop Using Sex As a Weapon: Hall Pass
The concept behind Hall Pass is simple: a couple of guys are given a break from their marriages by their wives so they can cat around. Much like the other recent Hollywood relationship comedy No Strings Attached, it dangles the promise of fun outside the oh-so-narrow confines of a traditional relationship, only to yank it away: of course the guys are going to learn that being single is in fact a horrible nightmare and they’re going to rush back into the arms of their smug wives. Why are we watching this film again?
Just because we know how a journey’s going to end doesn’t men the trip's not worth taking though, but here what seems like it should be a wild and hilarious romp (well, hilarious by mainstream Hollywood sex comedy standards) largely turns out to be a dull, painful, trudging grind. Much of the blame needs to be laid at the feet of directors the Farrelly brothers, whose one classic film (There’s Something About Mary) is still getting them work despite their repeated inability to imbue their subsequent films with anything approaching that film’s charm, nuance, or comedy. Their films are, on a basic level, crude - they're filled with ugly characters and blunt situations, and they really need a nuance-free comedic set-up if they're going to work at all.
Mary worked because it had such a set-up: Mary was the girl of every man’s dreams, and so a whole bunch of weirdos and freaks fought over her. Hall Pass, on the other hand, is about that point in a marriage where things get stale and the good old days loom large. Who are we supposed to cheer for here: the guys who want to leave their wives and sleep around? The wives who let them, then get tempted themselves? How do we want this story to play out anyway? Their marriages have to be pretty flat for the guys to want to have a break, even for a short while – are we really going to cheer when they rush back in?
The film attempts to dodge this bullet the traditional way: one couple is the “real” couple, while the other is the “comedy” couple. As always, the comedy couple feels more real because they’re allowed to be pissed off and unhappy; the real couple is basically so happy it’s a bit of a puzzle why they’re getting into all this anyway.
This doesn’t really hide the fact that the guys are pretty much sleazebags, mind you; all they do up until they get the hall pass is perv on other women and make sexist comments. In a simpler film, this’d be a simple case of “be careful what you wish for”. These unlikable guys would be set free, discover being single is a nightmare, and at the end of the week run back to their wives swearing never to stray again.
[sadly, this is the state of play in Hollywood rom-coms. A film that seriously suggested that a bad marriage was one you should leave, or that some relationships aren’t worth saving, would be more than a little controversial. Even The Dilemma, which did feature a break-up, made sure to also present a successful relationship – two, if you count the bromance.]
Instead, this feels an obligation to have it both ways: the guys are actually offered hassle-free sex after less than a week on the market. You’d have to think with that kind of strike rate the temptation to stray next time the marriage is going through a dry spell would actually increase. Seriously, these guys have been on the market less than a week – more than half that time being taken up with over-eating, getting stoned, having penises waved in their faces at the gym and so on – and they still score? So this film is saying being single is good now? Well, sort of: plenty of bad things happen to them too, so the moral is… um… if you don’t want to have anything interesting happening in your life, stay married?
Of course, the real problem here is that this film is trying to be all things to all viewers. This concept would work as a film for men: two guys escape their battleaxe wives for a week, then return home having let off some steam. It’d work for women: two wives let their oafish partners off the leash, then laugh as they come crawling back. What it can’t do, no matter how hard the Farrelly’s try, is work for both audiences. The story’s being pulled in two directions; like listening to a guy trying to tell a joke he can’t get straight, eventually you stop caring.