All right. I should have known better. I freely admit this: one does not go into a movie like Hall Pass expecting an empowering, feminist narrative. The fact that the title implies treating grown men like schoolboys – providing them with a ‘hall pass’ to excuse a temporary absence from marriage the same way one might be excused from class – is a dead giveaway.
But see it I did. So. Oh. Dear. Lord.
It’s not that it’s graphic – it is, but that’s not an inherent problem with movies. It’s not that it isn’t genuinely funny in places – it is, though sometimes the humour is of the ‘did they really just say/do/show that?’ It’s that it’s an inherently conservative movie which comes out wholeheartedly in support of marriage and monogamy while all the time having its characters resist all that goes with that. Sure, there’s something to be said for the idea of wanting what you can’t have – and for something becoming unappealing all of a sudden when a barrier is lifted. It doesn’t mean that the notion can or should serve as the entire basis for characterisation and plot.
The idea of two middle-aged men facing up to the reality of being able to hit on the kind of women they spend so much of their time ogling, and having that fail or be somewhat unsatisfying, lends itself to all kinds of comic potential. But a realisation on the part of Rick (Owen Wilson) that he doesn’t want to sleep with the girl he’s been chasing rings false. There’s more of a sense that despite permissions granted, marriage is marriage and that’s that. Which would be a fair enough point to make if we ever got a sense that Rick and his wife Maggie (Jenna Fischer) actually loved each other. A revelation at the end suggests there are some fairly obvious topics they haven’t even discussed during their years of marriage, and throughout the movie the occasional reference to the other never suggests anything binding them together apart from habit and familiarity. If this is real love, you can keep it.
I don’t mind schmaltzy. It’s idiot schmaltz that bothers me. I don’t mind movies turning out to be something different than expected – a love story hidden behind a wacky gross-out comedy – but it needs to work. I don’t mind a movie which suggests that actually women might ‘let’ husbands get away with certain behaviours because it gives them the opportunity to do the same. I don’t even – all right, I do mind that terrible conversation where the men congratulate themselves for making all their wives’ dreams (house, kitchen, children) come true, because there’s not nearly enough subtlety in the movie for this to be viewed ironically. I don’t mind rooting for two-dimensional characters – just as long as the film remembers that it’s dealing with stereotypes whose behaviour may be idiotic but should always make some kind of sense in context.
I don’t mind characters doing idiotic things – it’s characters who simply are idiots that bother me. The film knows the idiotic things are going on – that’s where the audience laughs. But the moments where it asks or expects sympathy or empathy towards the characters – where it asks you to root for them – that’s where it gets frustrating.
It’s not that I expect thought-provoking, moving storylines every time I go to the cinema. But I do expect even the most idiotic of films to have some sort of internal logic.
I know. I know. I should have known better.