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Written by on February 26, 2011 

Leave it to the Brothers Farrelly to provide an answer to the immature comedy Just Go With It. Hall Pass deals with similar themes – including aging “gracefully” – though not quite successfully. It’s treatment of the material lands in the uncanny valley of pathetic and sympathetic.

Owen Wilson plays Rick, who is married to Maggie (Jenna Fischer) – aside from Rick’s wondering eyes the couple really has no major issues. His BFF on the other hand, Fred (Jason Sudekis), feels the need to take mental snap shots of the sexy barista Leigh, an Aussie transplant to Providence, played by Nicky Whelan. Fred is married to Grace (Christina Applegate), who has no interest in having sex with him, causing poor Fred to sneak out to his car in the middle of the night, blast some tunes and masturbate. (There is a funny scene here, but if there was ever a missed opportunity to put White Snake’s “Here I Go Again (On My Own)” on a soundtrack….)

After Fred is arrested and Rick (with Fred’s help) embarrasses himself they are granted a hall pass: a week off from their marriages to do whatever they want. Re-energized and delusional they enter the dating scene- trying to get laid at Applebee’s. And here is the entrance of the painful truth: these men aren’t in retrospect pathetic so much as they refuse to be bored. We learn a truth later in the film that makes it all click – but the temptation of an alternative path ever present.

Although boasting a few big laughs, Hall Pass isn’t as successful as it could be, though its heart is in the right place. Somehow it finds a the middle ground between one of the worst films of the year – Just Go With It and one of the best of last year – Mike Leigh’s Another Year.

There is an undercurrent of sadness that comes with aging: a certain bar scene appeals to those that have just turned 21 throughout its life. You can revisit the same bar or club 10 years after the fact (if it’s still has the same concept) and realize you get older but the crowd remains the frozen in time. People grow up, they get out of this scene, settle down, have kids and start the cycle over again. Of course, it can also be pathetic to try to relive a time you’ve grown out of. For those that are single, even for a week, this is frustrating. A single man in his 50s in Leigh’s wonderful film, for example, expresses “everything is for kids these days” – hipsters have invaded his local pubs. Here their flirtations with Whelan’s hot Aussie barista get them put in immediate physical danger by a midget (who I assume is an art student at RISD).

Hall Pass presents a traditional view of marriage. Rick and Maggie have three children living in a suburb of Providence (if Providence looks nicer than usual it’s because while waiting for the worth-while credit cookies, I discovered the film was shot in Georgia). In true Farrelly style the film isn’t a parody of boring white suburbanites: they never look down on their characters – instead there is a sense of goodness and honesty that is perhaps a bit over the top.

Aside from going further over the top and achieving gross out moments, it’s genuinely a good time – not a comedy classic like their earlier works. The other issue I have is that Providence is an interesting playground to explore the polarization of the young/old divide – being hip when you’re outside of the scene requires effort, and perhaps this is the point. We must act our age – this divide could have been highlighted more effectively had the film had added more of the texture of Providence.

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