This review was originally posted February 25, 2011. It has been reprinted for the film’s home video release.
I probably didn't need to actually see "Hall Pass" to tell you that you're better off seeing "The Freebie" (or going back farther and to a very different time, Paul Mazursky's swinger classic, "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice"). But I couldn't legitimately claim the Farrelly brothers' new gross-out comedy (based on a spec script by "Project Greenlight" winner Pete Jones), which shares a basic premise with Katie Aselton's indie drama of last year (which I've praised plenty already), with a good conscience. Besides, now that I have seen both films, I can't even rightly compare them. They're like apples and oranges. Especially if the oranges are being used for some immature sort of sex gag.
Not to sound pretentious, but one film is for a certain audience that would like to think smartly and emotionally about what a night off from marriage, for the mutual benefit of both spouses to partake in adulterous activities, would actually look like and feel like. "The Freebie" honestly and realistically answers questions and simulates the hypothetical for us so we will never need to try it. The other film, "Hall Pass," is for a crowd that, like its characters, barely contemplates the logical emotional ramifications. It's for that guy in "Heathers" who says, "save the speeches for Malcolm X; I just want to get laid."
Actually, the equivalent of that guy in this audience just wants to laugh. And laugh he will, even at the most disgusting and implausible bit I've ever seen in a Farrelly movie. The one I knew about going in, thanks to the British ratings board, which "features a drunken woman who sneezes so hard that she accidentally defecates onto the bathroom wall behind her." He'll laugh at jokes about faking oral sex and wide-mouth vaginas and all that sort of stuff. And that will be fine. If he's married, I hope his wife enjoys it, too, even if the couple is as old as the one sitting beside me. At a moment when Jason Sudeikis explains that he misses the act of removing a girl's panties for the first time, this husband nodded and smiled and appeared to be nudging his companion. I'd like to think that those two had their first date to see "Pink Flamingos," which in all fairness is still raunchier than anything here.
The fact that I even want to analyze a movie like "Hall Pass" and ponder its statements will surely be ignored by any of those millions who will enjoy it (many more than will see "The Freebie"), and yet those who would understandably avoid it will likely dismiss my thoughts on it, too. Not out of disrespect, but because they haven't seen and won't see it regardless. Oh well. I can't help being curious about a majority of moviegoers who are so interested in laughing at excessively large penises contrasted against impossibly small penises that they can't stop to realize how nonsensical the movie they're watching is. From the start, its way of considering adultery is totally flawed. When they first hear about the idea of a "hall pass," the two leading women (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) understand it to be the permission for their husbands (Owen Wilson and Sudeikis) to suddenly have a choice regarding whether or not to sleep with another woman.
Well, sorry ladies, but men always have the right to choose if they're going to cheat, so the real way of saying it is that you're letting him sleep with someone else, not that you're giving him the option. That's how the guys take it anyway. They don't weigh pros and cons or mull over whether they should or shouldn't. They treat their hall passes like a kid treats a dollar handed to him at a candy store. Actually, a kid might be brighter. He might in fact, at least for a second, consider saving that dollar. These are idiot men, mind you, and very sexist idiots, at that. The sliver of contemplation they do have before going through with the deed involves a defense that will have Betty Friedan rolling over in her grave a bunch this weekend: their wives' dreams came true -- i.e., they got the house and kitchen and kids they always wanted -- so now it's time for the guys' dreams to come true, too. And by dreams, they're obviously thinking of the wet kind. Yet they're not alone. Other wives in the film are represented as either being the kind that get the dream stove or the dream boob job.
As much as this sounds like "Hall Pass" is misogynistic, I believe it's pretty balanced in its sexism (making it neutrally exaggerated and not sexist at all). Or, if anything, it might be slightly more offensive to men. There is not one male character in the entirety of the movie that seems to have a brain. No, that's not right. I love brainless comedies, like early Adam Sandler, anything with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly together -- I even laughed a lot in "Dinner for Schmucks," even though I was made to feel bad about it afterward. The guys here have brains; they're just not good ones, and they forget to use them most of the time. This includes Wilson and Sudeikis' oddball group of married buddies, who try to live vicariously through the duo, again without a considerate clue. Then there's their single friend, played by the scene-stealing Richard Jenkins, who is such a genius about women he's "like 'A Beautiful Mind,'" though he's really just a more well-off and tactless version of Will Ferrell's aging womanizer from "Wedding Crashers." There is not one likable male character in the bunch, and so nobody for the male audience to identify with, at least not openly.
So I guess the Farrellys are correct in saying "Hall Pass" is a chick flick. Fischer and Applegate are a bit smarter, a little more mature and really the true protagonists of the story. Women may go to see the movie and identify with them. And yes, they also get to play the field a bit and learn the wrongs of their actions in this plot. Yet they also get the crappier fantasy, because the men who they attract, while better looking (one young, one old) and seemingly more romantic, they too are ultimately revealed to be morons and jerks. So where's the true fantasy for the female viewer? At least the guys, even if expected to relate to total schmucks, have the fantasy of attracting hot young women, some of whom are certainly paraded for the audience's gaze. The joke on these flabby, uncool men was supposed to be that they would turn out to have no game and fail miserably in their pursuits while their still sexy and thin wives obviously can pick up guys in a snap. But the men don't fail. They're unreasonably successful.
It's no big secret that the wives and the husbands get back at the end of the week and still love each other. There are no heart-wrenching fights like in the climax of "The Freebie." But it should upset some people that the wives return so easily to their doofus husbands who really are like horny teenagers without much merit or scruples. And anyone who thinks Wilson's at least a nicer guy than Sudeikis, let me note that he didn't get a week off from being a father, and yet he seems completely unconcerned about them the whole time (as does Fischer in the second half of the film). The couples stay together solely out of comfort, safety, dependence and all of those other things that negative marriage stereotypes promise in place of true love.
"Hall Pass" isn't an immoral movie. At least there's no double standard on what is considered adultery, a la "The Dilemma," but it shares an unfortunate view on humanity and its marital bonds in the way it depicts everyone as hopelessly dumb and dishonest. The movie isn't even as smart as "No Strings Attached" in either what it says about polygamous desires -- male and female -- or how it tries to tonally balance the immature with the mature. But people laughed a lot harder in this movie than either of those recent releases. And I doubt many in the audience care how it compares to those or any other films.
"Hall Pass" is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Recommended If You Like: "Dumb and Dumber"; "Wedding Crashers"; "Married...With Children"