One would think that after nearly twenty years spent writing and directing movies, the Farrellys would be better at it. They started out OK. “There’s Something About Mary” and “Kingpin” are consistently funny. “Shallow Hal” is practically a heartwarming story with a good message. They haven’t done anything noteworthy since. After their latest offering, a tragically humorless mess, they should strongly consider retirement. At its best, “Hall Pass” is a checklist of “outrageousness” including, but not limited to, public defecation, an enormous boner, a tiny boner, a massage parlor mishap, a catastrophic fart and frequent discussions about what one could and would do to various parts of the female anatomy. At its worst, it’s a puerile, if not completely misogynistic take on marriage. Despite the (squandered) presence of Stephen Merchant (“The Office” UK) and a handful of jokes that were likely improvised, there is no good reason to see this film. Be warned, readers: I’m about to get all Camille Paglia on your asses.
Maggie (Jenna Fisher) and Grace (Christina Applegate) are two long-suffering wives who decide that they are tired of being embarrassed by their husbands’ perpetual horniness. At the suggestion of their pop psychologist friend (Joy Behar) they decide to give Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) a week off from marriage to do whatever or whomever they must to “get it out of their system”. Never mind the fact that this would all be resolved if they just had sex with their husbands.
Rick, the marginally more mature one, isn’t completely on board with the Hall Pass idea at first. He has no say though, as the ladies leave town before they can discuss it. Meanwhile, an ecstatic Fred convinces Rick that it’s a good thing because it’s their turn to have a dream fulfilled. Their wives, he asserts, have had all their dreams come true. These dreams included getting married, having babies, and buying a house with a nice kitchen. This speech is delivered and received with utmost sincerity. According to the Farrellys, all women want to be pretty princess baby machines and all men want only to put their penises in things.
Unfortunately, these ideas aren’t entirely original. The Farrellys are perpetuating a long-standing implication that only men want to get laid while women view sex as either a soul-bearing experience or an inconvenience. “No sex after marriage” is the joke that will never die. But it really needs to. Sure, every marriage experiences dry spells, particularly if there are children involved. However, even with frequent boning, every person (male or female) in a committed relationship checks out other people and occasionally fantasizes about them. Anyone who claims otherwise is lying. This is perfectly normal, healthy and doesn’t mean that they love their partner any less. The wives in “Hall Pass” confess to each other the lengths they’ll go to avoid sleeping with their husbands from pretending to be asleep to complaining of lady problems. Maggie has mentally bronzed the moment she lost her virginity, claiming to know the month, day and hour it happened. Both women accuse their husbands of being unreasonably horny. But it’s not unreasonable to be allowed access to your spouse’s genitalia every once in a while. These women should be happy that their husbands still find them attractive. It’s not that wives owe their husbands sex. It’s that they should want to have sex with their husbands. Otherwise, why stay married to them?
The Farrellys have never been particularly good at writing female characters. They’re barely capable of writing male characters resembling socialized adults. Rick and Fred are detrimentally arrested adolescents while Maggie and Grace are humorless, frigid balls of estrogen. The women loosen up somewhat when they decide to utilize the Hall Pass for themselves. And the men do have one or two moments in which they make real, adult decisions. But it’s not enough. Simply having one or more characters ultimately “learn something” does not make up for gross gender stereotypes.
To add insult to insult, the conceit of “Hall Pass” isn’t even original. Whether or not the Farrellys were aware of “The Freebie” when they wrote it, the conceptual similarities cannot be denied. But concept is all they have in common. “The Freebie” is a thoughtful, emotionally honest look at the lengths an otherwise happy couple will go to in order to fix their stale sex life. They are friends as well as spouses so they discuss these issues honestly and maturely. It leads to them opening a very touchy can of worms, but this is an extreme outcome to a conversation that many couples have had. The Farrellys, on the other hand, took an interesting premise and vomited it onto the classroom floor. “Hall Pass” is desperately in need of the pink sawdust treatment.