The simple fact is, I’m just not a fan of the Farrelly Brothers. I have to admit that right at the start so that you’ll understand why I didn’t like Hall Pass, their newest film, which I have no doubt their fans will find incredibly funny. To me, gross-out humor is a spectacle that exists for no reason other than to be itself. Rarely if ever does it contribute to what’s unfolding before our very eyes. By forcing an audience to watch Cameron Diaz comb something that isn’t hair gel into her bangs, or Woody Harrelson throw a bowling ball with his artificial hand still attached, or Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear play baseball as conjoined twins, you haven’t advanced the story; you’ve merely given the audience something to gawk at in disbelief. If I’m made to do that, I’d much prefer heavy computer graphics or hand-drawn animation.
But again, that’s just me. I wasn’t on par with the audience I sat with, who delighted in such memorable images as a woman’s bowels letting loose as she sneezes. And oh, how everyone howled with laugher during a scene in a gym, in which Owen Wilson learns, in an awfully direct way, a fundamental difference between black men and pasty, redheaded men. How do I best describe this? Let me quote Madeline Kahn from Blazing Saddles: “Is it twue what they say about you people being … gifted? Oh, it’s twue! It’s twue, it’s twue!” Is it that I just don’t have a sense of humor? I seem to recall laughing pretty hard at another recent comedy, Cedar Rapids, which successfully interwove raunchy humor with sweetness and sincerity. Maybe it’s a simple matter of taste; the less of it you have, the better your chances of liking this movie.
But there must be more to it than that. The story, for one thing, isn’t all that compelling. It’s about suburban Rhode Island men who, at the insistence of their wives, are given a “hall pass,” which in this case translates as a full week off of marriage to do whatever they wish to do. Perhaps I’m too inexperienced with relationships, but this sounds like a fantasy even bigger than Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings combined; I cannot see how any level-headed woman, least of all one who is married, would entertain this idea for even a second. Comedies work best when they have some kernel of truth in them, some sense that the situation and the characters are relatable, even if they happen to be in sick and twisted ways.
The newly unleashed husbands are a realtor named Rick (Wilson) and an insurance salesman named Fred (Jason Sudeikis). The theory, as stated by a mutual friend of the wives (Joy Behar), is that, by allowing them one week of marital freedom, they will quickly stop obsessing over the sex they so long for but legally and morally can’t have. Whether or not they come to realize this is inconsequential; all we’re made to notice is that they fail miserably on their quest. Honestly, these men wouldn’t know fun even it came up and bit them; on their first night out, they actually believe they can score a date at their local Applebee’s. They then spend a day at a golf club, where they indulge in a few too many pot-laced brownies. It’s here that one of their friends, who doesn’t have a hall pass, drops his pants in the middle of a sand trap, squats, and does … something a respectable golf club would frown upon.
The wives, meanwhile, are spending the weekend in a posh Long Island beach community. Rick’s wife, Maggie (Jenna Fischer), and Fred’s wife, Grace (Christina Applegate), get to know the players of a college baseball team, and only then do they realize that this hall pass system applies to them, too. To say any more would be far too revealing, but I will say that I wasn’t particularly surprised by the outcomes of this subplot, or even of the main plot. From this, I can only assume that the intention wasn’t to provide the film with meaning, but merely to take a break between moments of unrelenting silliness, which climaxes with a jealous boyfriend clinging to the roof of Fred’s minivan, armed with both a crowbar and a gun.
What I did appreciate, to some degree, was Rick, who in due time finds himself seriously tempted by an Australian barista named Leigh (Nicky Whelan). In spite of his partiality to the female backside, he does genuinely seem to love his wife and children. Fred, on the other hand, is so thoroughly unlikeable that it’s a wonder Grace has put up with him for as long as she has. They both look up to an eternally single world traveler named Coakley (an unrecognizable Richard Jenkins), whose sexual exploits are the stuff of legend. I actually wanted to see more of this character, since it seems he has had a big influence on the main characters. Alas, his role is all but overshadowed by the Farrelly Brothers insatiable appetite for toilet humor and profanity-laced dialogue. If movies like Hall Pass float your boat, fine, but remember that I never forced you to read this far.