Which development, would you say, has defined the movies as we know them today? The canted camera perspectives of Citizen Kane and The Third Man that nudged photography towards psychology, hinting at the camera-as-shrink pyrotechnics of Black Swan? The special-effects expanse of 2001: A Space Odyssey which finds the protagonist catapulted through space, pointing to the green-screen era of the modern-day blockbuster? Allow me to suggest, from There's Something About Mary, a far more, um, seminal moment, involving Cameron Diaz and a gob of bodily goo. Thanks to Mel Brooks and John Waters, the bad-taste frontier had been explored and expanded, but now it had exploded. Overnight, the ante was upped, there was nothing that couldn't find its way to the screen — and in Hall Pass, the latest comedy from Bobby and Peter Farrelly, there's a toilet gag so gross, you stare in disbelief. But a second later, your inner ten-year-old begins to snicker.
That's the attraction of (or repulsion with, depending on your taste for bad taste) these directors, these overgrown man-boys. They are so shameless, they stoop so low in a wholly good-natured way that you have to admire, at some level, their persistence with humour we adored in school and abandoned upon growing up, because grown-ups just don't say and do these things. This, then, is a cinema of vicarious and subversive pleasures, freeing its audience to laugh at exploding faeces and worse, far worse.
The problem with Hall Pass isn't this profusion of puerile humour — the Lord knows we could use a break from the good-taste police. The problem is that there isn't enough, given its outrageous premise of Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis) being given a week off from marriage by their wives, Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate). The men think that if it were not for the women they're married to, they'd have all these other women to fool around with, and the wives decide to cut them loose and let them find out how it really is out there when you're inching towards forty. The setups are inspired — at a golf course, at a massage parlour — but the payoffs are disappointingly limp.
The film, funnily enough, works far better when it's not trying to be funny, when it's not trying to shock us senseless. Remove the raunch, and the Farrelly films are really romcoms about stunted men and their long-suffering women. And the Farrellys really get women. Maggie pretends to be asleep to avoid sex with Rick because she doesn't know if he's going to make love to her or to the Frankensteinian fantasy-figure inside his head, stitched from the best body parts of various other women. Grace, meanwhile, gets to have sex outside her marriage without ending up punished for it. It's the sentiment that carries us through this suburban fairy tale which opens with a white picket fence. Inside, a father is showing long-ago photographs to his children. “Once upon a time,” he seems to be saying, “your daddy did not have a receding hairline and your mommy could actually carry off a bikini.” Despite all the non-family-friendly jokes, all the Farrellys are going for is happily-ever-after.
Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Cast: Owen Wilson, Jason Sudeikis, Jenna Fischer, Christina Applegate
Storyline: Two married men get a week off from marriage to play the field. But be careful what you wish for.
Bottomline: Not shocking enough, not funny enough, yet sweet enough to endure.