Anna (Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) are a 30-something couple who fell for each other when just kids and their entire collective sexual experience was only with each other. Now, pondering marriage, they are beginning to wonder what it would be like to have another lover in “Permission.”
Like most, if not all, film critics, I take notes when watching a movie to review. Generally, the notes are about plot lines, characters, locations and the look and tone as reminders for later. Sometimes, though rarely, I make editorial notes about a film’s premise (generally bad) and things that do not make sense or are unrealistic. I made a lot of editorial notes while watching “Permission.”
The first thing about a film about relationships is that the viewer should actually care about the lead characters – a factor that is sorely absent in this second feature by writer-director Brian Crano.
I was going to spend time on the story and its plot threads but, the more I think about it, why should I bother? I neither liked nor believed the main characters, their actions and motivations. Will and Anna make decisions that I, immediately, knew were bad and wondered why they would behave so, well, stupidly. For this, I blame the script by director Crano.
I have always respected Rebecca Hall as an actress of note and Dan Stevens has proved his abilities beyond “Downton Abbey.” But, in “Permission,” there is no chemistry between their characters and the life decisions they make are more adolescent than adult. I do like Morgan Spector as Will’s best friend, Reece, the only character with a voice of reason.
I want to like or, at least, be positive about every film I see. I cannot do that here. I give it a D+.
It's Anna's (Rebecca Hall) 30th birthday and she's celebrating with long time live-in boyfriend Will (Dan Stevens) and her brother Hale (David Joseph Craig, 2015's "The Gift") and his partner Reece (Hall's husband, Morgan Spector, "The Drop"). When the subject of happiness comes up, Reece challenges Anna's assertion that she and Will have a great sex life, saying the two, who've been a couple since childhood, have nothing to compare it to. Troubled, Anna later tells Will he should have sex with other people. Will clearly doesn't like the idea, but sensing Anna does, he gives her his "Permission."
Rebecca Hall was one of the producers of this film from writer/director Brian Crano and the project comes across as a bunch of family and friends putting on a show - a not very good show as it turns out. Hall may be a terrific actress, but if this is any indication, her filmmaking instincts need to catch up. Within five minutes the most striking aspect of "Permission" was how immature its characters are.
We're introduced to Anna and Will as they have pedestrian sex punctuated with a lot of declarations of love, the relationship one of settled companionship rather than passion. During her birthday dinner, Will is quite disturbed to learn Anna once had a crush on another of their friends, as if attraction to the opposite sex was some kind of abnormality. To round out this relationship dramedy, Hale and Reece are also questioning their long term validity, Hale's desire for a child not in Reece's game plan.
Anna and Will head out to a club and separate. Anna is immediately hit upon by someone she obviously has no interest in, then rescued by the charming and good-looking Dane (François Arnaud, TV's 'Blindspot'), who she pretends is her boyfriend, a set-up as old as the hills. Will spends his time spying, plays his and Anna's song on the jukebox, then awkwardly intrudes on the two as Anna's 'friend.' Anna leaves with Dale and Will heads for home. Will gets his own opportunity for sexual experimentation at his woodworking shop when new customer Lydia (Gina Gershon) eyes more than his fine cedar finishes, her delivery order loaded with innuendo. On his daily walk of Will and Anna's dog Axel at a city park, Hale is drawn towards new dad Glenn (Jason Sudeikis).
What are we to make of "Permission?" That open relationships are a bad idea? While Will's cougar experience is grotesquely comical, Anna embarks on the type of swoony romance that only happens in the movies, Dane a musician who can have anyone he wants with only eyes for Anna (she tries on another man, Heron (Raúl Castillo, TV's 'Looking'), for good measure). Reece, the instigator of this whole thing, immediately becomes its chief critic in a whiplash inducing about face. Reece may be having to confront some hard truths about moving forward with Hale, but his situation is hardly comparable. Crano's conclusion is abrupt and brutal, a sympathetic character tossed aside at a crucial moment with no show of remorse.
Given his inconsistent character motivation, Spector creates the most realistic character here. Hall kept reminding me of Liza Minelli's Pookie Adams from 1969's "The Sterile Cuckoo," not, I'm sure, what she was going for while Stevens's Will is the type of guy one might picture wearing onesies to bed. Neither character seems to have progressed from carving hearts in a tree. Arnaud and Sudeikis are fine, Gershon a caricature.
The production is better than its content, Crano showcasing a talent for visual puns that comment upon his action (glassware shattering, a building imploding) and a good ear for music, but be warned before you grant yourself "Permission" to watch this movie.
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