Once upon a time in 1998, Bobby and Peter Farrelly pushed the envelope of raunchy comedy with their breakout hit There’s Something About Mary. A few years on, the brothers created the equally hilarious Me, Myself & Irene. Unfortunately, since then, the brothers have been stuck in a serious rut – throughout the noughties they directed several subpar comedies which disappointed their fans and showed that the duo has gotten softer. 2011’s Hall Pass therefore represented an attempt by the Farrelly brothers to reclaim the crown they lost over a decade ago. Thankfully, Hall Pass is hilarious; denoting a return to form for the brothers. It’s not exactly on par with the pair’s best movies, but this flick is gut-bustingly funny and the story is more thoughtful than expected. See, the brothers gleaned a few tricks from Judd Apatow’s playbook, meaning that there’s an element of sweetness buried underneath the nudity, bodily fluid jokes, and faecal matter.
Real estate agent Rick (Wilson) and his best friend Fred (Sudeikis) are two middle-aged schlubs who are married, respectively, to Maggie (Fischer) and Grace (Applegate). Despite being married, neither Rick nor Fred can help but ogle every good-looking woman they stumble across. Tired of their husbands’ perpetually wandering eyes and sensing that the spark of their relationships may have faded, Maggie and Grace opt to take the advice of a neighbourhood friend and grant Rick and Fred a “hall pass” – that is, one week free from marriage in which the guys can do whatever they want (without consequences) in order to get the sexual urges out of their systems. Initially taken aback by the news, they soon become gung-ho at the notion of living it up like college guys. Confronted with their wildest dreams come true, Rick and Fred embark on a weeklong series of misadventures desperate to find willing women.
Naturally, Rick and Fred – and, for that matter, Maggie and Grace – will inevitably realise just how precious their partners are to them, and realise the week has given them a newfound appreciation for their home life. Of course, too, the characters are going to have second thoughts about going through with affairs. And of course, there will be the obligatory climactic make-ups. This stuff is as predictable as the tide. Yet, even though these arcs are in the service of formula and although you can predict them a mile away, at least there is some actual sweetness amidst the vulgarity. Interestingly, the Farrelly brothers have stated that they believe Hall Pass to be a chick flick. While this may sound like a strange possibility for a movie full of gross-out humour, it’s almost true since the wives of the movie also undergo eye-opening epiphanies. It’s a strange audience to target, though, since middle-aged women are likely to turn off the movie within the first half an hour, and it’s doubtful they’ll sit through an entire scene of full-frontal penis nudity. As a side note, where the hell did Rick and Maggie’s kids go? They literally disappear after the midway point, and are never seen again.
Hall Pass definitely earns its R-rating. It’s not as if the movie merely contains a couple of f-bombs and a few nudity shots – rather, it’s packed with a constant barrage of low-brow but hilarious gags and quite a lot of graphic nudity. Yet, not all of the comedy here is of the raunchy or gross-out variety (the Law & Order scene transition noise is recurringly used to side-splitting effect), though it’s hard to imagine Hall Pass appealing to anybody who does not appreciate silly humour. Admittedly, the biggest laughs are a bit too few and far between, but at least the movie never grows excruciating between the best set-pieces. A major drawback of Hall Pass, though, is that the utter futility and joylessness of the hall pass becomes the focus of the film, which is ill-advised. The Farrelly brothers perhaps played things a bit too safe, and should have instead mined the premise for all its blackest potential. After all, the plot is morally reprehensible enough as it is, so it seems pointless to soften the proceedings.
Owen Wilson is predictably fine and amiable as Rick, though he adopted his stereotypical straight-man shtick and none of the material truly tests his thespian talents. Alongside him, Jason Sudeikis ably slipped into the role of Fred with the demented everyman persona which defined most of his Saturday Night Live oeuvre. The standout performance, though (to the extent that there can be a standout in a production of this sort), was delivered by the perpetually-reliable Richard Jenkins. Jenkins does not appear until the film’s final third, but, when he does arrive, he dominates every scene he’s in. Never less than hilarious, Jenkins proved here that he’s as good with comedy as he is with drama. Another of the feature’s highest points is Nicky Whelan (from the terrible 9th season of Scrubs), who’s stunningly beautiful and charismatic as the sweet-natured Leigh. Also worth mentioning is Brit comedian Stephen Merchant, whose brand of comedy lightens up several sequences. Stick around momentarily during the end credits, as there’s an additional scene involving Merchant that’s side-splitting.
Hall Pass lacks the same kick of the earlier films by the Farrelly brothers, but it nonetheless shows enough flashes of ’90s-Farrelly magic to make the film worth watching. Considering the usual standard for studio comedies, it is indeed refreshing to witness a comedy which not only has the balls to go the hard-R route but also contains actual moments of inspired hilarity. Nonetheless, one cannot help but wonder what the ’90s-era Farrelly brothers might have made of it.