The Boys Are Back in Town: Hall Pass (2011)

Posted by Charles Reece, July 3, 2011 11:07pm | Post a Comment

I don't know why the Farrelly brothers' Hall Pass wasn't more successful. It's no worse than Kingpin or There's Something About Mary and is about the same thing: men trying to get it up. If you found the previous efforts funny, then there's a recommendation. It was, for me, like spending two hours with a couple of pot-bellied sports radio listeners in a Dallas elevator. Not that I have to like the protagonists in a story, but I do have to find them interesting in some way. And there's nothing interesting about the particular strain of the bourgeoisie know as the sports aficionado. I moved thousands of miles to get away from him. To their credit, I guess, the Farrellys have captured, with a cinéma-vérité authenticity, this khaki-clothed repressed memory of mine ("the 'Boys are back in town": shudder), and without ever explicitly discussing sports. They do, however, frequently turn the camera to old pictures of the leads, Rick (Owen Wilson) and Fred (Jason Sudeikis), in their glory days as high school football stars to reinforce the effects of domesticity on male potency: use it or lose it. The husbands aren't getting enough from their respective wives, Maggie (Jenna Fischer) and Grace (Christina Applegate), which regularly erupts in pornographic disquisitions on what they'd be capable of if not for the ball-and-chain.

After hearing their husbands natter on about sexual defilement one time too many, the wives grant them hall passes at the suggestion of a psychiatrist friend. For one week, the men can pretend not to be married without any repercussions for whatever might happen while the women are away on vacation. For most of the week, the husbands drink with friends and continue to dream about molesting young women while young men are actually flirting with their vacationing wives. If you've seen any romantic comedy about infidelity from the past 80 years, you'll recognize Hollywood's reduction of the hedonic calculus to a ratio: cheating isn't bad so long as (1) the betrayed lover is an asshole, (2) the jilted one is given a replacement, or, as in Hall Pass, (3) both parties are equally unfaithful. Marital bliss (a.k.a. love conquers all) is defined through parity: Rick and Maggie resist the temptation to cheat, while Fred and Grace both give in (but feel awful for doing it afterwards), with both couples renewing their vows by the end. What's perverse about this resolution is that it isn't some satirical undermining of romantic love using utilitarianism, but a moronic conflation of utilitarianism with romantic love. These couples are the libertarian base, supporting any candidate who romanticizes capitalism as naturally just.

The film is little more than a diversionary fantasy for the kind of man who can afford to have a mid-life crisis, so probably will. The comedy isn't based on any critique of the kind of fucked-up views that might lead to such crises (such as the strength of marriage bond being seen as the equality of each spouse's exchange value in the free market), but always in support of bourgeois ennui as being as good as it gets. We're supposed to root for Rick, laugh with him, not at him. Thus, his moment of self-realization comes when he tells off the bohemian barista at the local coffee shop. He points out that he might be square, but it's his type that owns the businesses, so good luck ever getting a job (a real job) with those counter-cultural views. He then goes on to steal the barista's object of desire, a hip, curvy blond co-worker with the line that she gets a chance to sleep with a married man. No, really, so appealing is his status that his kids' winsome, college-aged babysitter regularly tries to seduce him, too. The beatnik barista turns out to be a mama's boy (what else could a commie be living in capitalist abundance?) and homicidal, trying to kill Rick for taking his girl (sane people surely can't be skeptical of capital). Hell, even his wife decides not to cheat on him because there's just too much there to value (by other potential buyers). Just as Rick suspected: he could fuck young girls if he wanted, his wife is still hot enough to attract other guys, but chooses only him, and he has enough wealth that he should feel superior to cynical hipsters. What started off as a fear of impotency has now been reframed as freedom. Now, that's ideology.

(Sidenote: Surprisingly, I ran across one conservative, Carl Horowitz, who'd likely agree with me here, only with a positive spin: "Hollywood does have a reigning political sensibility.  It’s called libertarianism, or more accurately, individualist libertarianism." Anyway, it's a good essay.)

Relevant Tags

Farrelly Brothers (1), Hall Pass (2)