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(No longer in theaters)
The Farrelly Brothers’ comedy Hall Pass is often desperate, often droopy. But I liked it—I like most of their films—for its blend of the cringeworthy and the compassionate. They’ve made a gross-out comedy about the perpetual immaturity of the American male that has, amazingly enough, a mature perspective.
I did groan when I heard the premise, which made me think the Farrellys were regressing. But it’s actually the male characters who long to regress. Married fortyish buddies Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis feel sexually deprived and live in a fantasy world, prone to checking out passing young women while laughably trying to hide their interest. But their spouses (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) miss nothing. A psychologist (Joy Behar) says to give the boys a week off from marriage and let them get the wanderlust out of their systems: a “hall pass.”
The idea is, frankly, creepy, suggesting that middle-aged men sentenced to monogamy can go back to high school—which of course they can’t, even with “permission.” Although you’ve never heard the words “Farrellys” and “Eugene O’Neill” in the same sentence, the film evokes the pathos of O’Neill’s “life lie”—here, the idea that men in committed relationships need to believe it’s only their spouses who prevent them from scoring. For all the excretory, penile, and cunnilinguistic slapstick, it’s the women’s emotions that finally take center stage. On a hall pass themselves, they like the attention of men. Then comes the grim realization that once more they’re objects in the psyches of creeps. When Hall Pass needs a shot of energy, Richard Jenkins arrives as a self-professed love doctor, a worldly hipster who analyzes the availability of women with the keen eye of Sherlock Holmes. But it’s Wilson’s movie. For years dubbed “the Butterscotch Stallion” in racy tabloids, he now sports thinning hair and slack muscles, and his trademark spacey cool is tinged with regret. It’s a terrific performance—and terrifying. Owen Wilson is aging: Where goeth my own youth?