A 'Hall Pass' To Cheat Keeps Marital Despair At Bay

When Jason Sudeikis (left) and Owen Wilson get a free pass to cheat, they start by going to Applebee's — not exactly known as a watering hole for singles.

When Jason Sudeikis (left) and Owen Wilson get a free pass to cheat, they start by going to Applebee's — not exactly known as a watering hole for singles. Peter Iovino/Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Peter Iovino/Warner Bros. Pictures

Hall Pass

  • Director: Peter and Bobby Farrelly
  • Genre: Comedy
  • Running Time: 98 minutes

Rated R for crude and sexual humor throughout, language, some graphic nudity and drug use

With: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate

The Farrelly brothers are sometimes thought of as the dumb adolescent's version of the Coen brothers — which is, on one level, true, and on another, slanderous. Because even with their characters' unruly bodily functions and hormones, the Farrellys' movies have a spirit that's remarkably gentle and humanistic.

Their comedy Hall Pass is a mixed bag. Often it's desperate, often it's droopy. But they've made one of the few recent movies about the perpetual immaturity of the American male with a mature perspective.

I did groan when I heard the premise of Hall Pass, which made me think the Farrellys were regressing. But it's actually the male characters that are regressing — or, rather, that long to regress. They're married buddies, on the verge of 40. Rick, played by Owen Wilson, and Fred, played by Jason Sudeikis from Saturday Night Live, are sexually frustrated: Their wives are rarely, for one reason or another, available to them, and their own bodies are beginning to lose their elasticity. They live in a fantasy world, prone to checking out young women who pass while laughably denying or trying to hide their interest. But their spouses, Maggie and Grace, played by Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate, miss nothing. A psychologist friend of theirs, played by Joy Behar, tells them to give the boys a week off from marriage. She calls this a "hall pass."

The "hall pass" idea is, frankly, creepy. It suggests that middle-aged men sentenced to monogamy can go back to high school — which of course they can't, even if they have, quote, "permission." When Maggie and Grace head off on vacation to Cape Cod, Rick and Fred hit the local Applebee's with three of their pals — played by Stephen Merchant, Larry Joe Campbell, and J.B. Smoove — who are along to experience their conquests vicariously.

Providence, R.I., where Hall Pass is set, has quite a few excellent watering holes for singles, which makes going to Applebee's especially far-fetched. But the gag does resonate. These guys want to stay in their safety zone.

One actor not in his safety zone is Owen Wilson, for years dubbed in racy tabloids "the butterscotch stallion" and a symbol of stoner cool. Here he's a fellow with thinning hair and slack muscles and the start of a paunch. His trademark spacey demeanor is now tinged with regret. It's a terrific performance — and terrifying, because if Owen Wilson can age, well, what chance do I have? Jason Sudeikis' character is more extreme, more infantile, but I love how he goes for broke. And when Hall Pass needs another shot of energy, Richard Jenkins arrives and brings down the house as a self-professed love doctor named Coakley, a worldly hipster who analyzes the availability of women in clubs with the keen eye of Sherlock Holmes.

Owen Wilson (left) and Jason Sudeikis star as two men giving a week-long "free pass" to  cheat from their wives, played by Jenna Fischer (left) and Christina Applegate, in the Farrelly brothers' new comedy Hall Pass. i i

Wilson (left) and Sudeikis are given a week-long "free pass" to cheat on their wives, played by Jenna Fischer (left) and Christina Applegate. Peter Iovino/Warner Bros. Pictures hide caption

itoggle caption Peter Iovino/Warner Bros. Pictures
Owen Wilson (left) and Jason Sudeikis star as two men giving a week-long "free pass" to  cheat from their wives, played by Jenna Fischer (left) and Christina Applegate, in the Farrelly brothers' new comedy Hall Pass.

Wilson (left) and Sudeikis are given a week-long "free pass" to cheat on their wives, played by Jenna Fischer (left) and Christina Applegate.

Peter Iovino/Warner Bros. Pictures

But for all the raunch and nudity and juvenile gross-out gags that go along with the men's desperate exploits, it's the women who become the film's emotional center. There they are on Cape Cod and they're suddenly being hit on by guys, middle-aged and even in college, and they like the attention. They like being pursued again — they realize that they wanted a hall pass, too. But along with that comes a grimmer realization: that once more, they're objects in the psyches of unreliable males.

There's an idea in Hall Pass that the Farrellys don't point up, but I think it's in the movie in spades: that people often depend on what Eugene O'Neill called the "life lie" — a false vision of themselves to keep despair at bay. In the Farrellys' culture, men in committed relationships need to believe it's only their spouses who prevent them from scoring all the time, and without that fantasy, something inside them would die. Hall Pass leaves you with that sad and wise view of adulthood, even if you'd never dream of putting the Farrellys and Eugene O'Neill in the same sentence.

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