Romantic comedies like Brian Crano’s Permission makes us, its audience, think of relationships in real life. Of how tenuous happiness can be, but also on how we need the relationships we see on screen to change. This means that this reflective nature of the genre isn’t always a perfect thing. Reality always chips away. What we see on screen isn’t real. The movie doesn’t start well and end well. It doesn’t sparkle as brightly as recent romantic movies but there are moments in the script that shine. Its lead actors, Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens, also takes for a ride to make the film’s middle part palatable. The cast give their all, even in parts of the film that are erratic.
Anna (Hall) and Will (Stevens), both bougie, are each other’s first and only loves. They have happily been together for a decade. The movie shows this happiness by making them have the kind of quick sex that busy people have. The next day is Anna’s 30th birthday. They spend with their friends, couple Hale (David Joseph Craig) and Reece (Morgan Spector). Reece makes the mistaking of reminding the couple that they can’t know that they are perfect for each other. That’s because they haven’t been with other people. This indiscretion sends these characters into their tailspins. Nothing that I recapped in this paragraph seems realistic. The characters’ blank slate beginnings feels basic and so does the contrivance that serve as the film’s catalyst.
There’s a near symmetry to the characters’ increasingly divergent paths that also seem suspect. Anna and Will decide to have an open relationship and have minor and major lovers. Anna, a graduate student studying music academically, meets a man, Dane (Francois Arnaud). Dane is the kind of guy who looks like he can actually pick up women in a bar. He’s also a musician who reignites Anna’s desire to perform. Will, a carpenter, meets Lydia (Gina Gershon), a seductive woman who, at first, embodies archetypes we see in porn. Hale meets Glenn (Jason Sudeikis), a single father who makes him curious on the next step that adults make. Reece doesn’t get a beau but instead watches the consequences of his words.
Aside from its shaky beginnings and characters, there’s enough here to suspend disbelief. Anna gets to be the only woman in the main group of characters but she gets some interesting stuff. Her character arc has the familiarity of a European novel but it’s the twenty-first century. The stakes are lower and so are the consequences. She, however, seems to be the one who’s paying most attention to how volatile things can get in open relationships. It’s also easy to judge Anna and Will for leaving stability just to see what’s on the other side. Yet speaking from personal experience, these characters are on the brink of boring. Deciding to run towards the opposite direction like they do is equally understadable.
Of course, Hall is great as Anna. As an actress she’s always been thinking about psychological ramifications. The rules that fictional worlds set on her characters have a specific weight that she knows how to carry. And despite of being on the dramatic side of the film she can still react to comedic situations. The person bringing said comedy is Stevens, who uses the weaselly-est accent I’ve ever heard on a leading man. It hints towards a lack of vanity that other directors can use and potentially push. His unconventional, flexible choices are wonderful to watch here. He blushes at the sight of Lydia. The way he acts around her, it seems conceivable that a man like him is new to dating.
The other actors helps make the film snappier that it should be. The male cast especially lend themselves to the film’s delightfully surprising queer gaze. Spector and Craig bring their own interpretation of their characters’ discontent. It’s also nice to see Raul Castillo and Sarah Steele despite of how small their screen times are. But my favourite of the actors outside of the main group is Gershon, who seamlessly switches Lydia’s sexiness into neuroses. My favourite scene are ones with her and Stevens going from one emotion to another within the same scene. There’s a lived in quality to all of these performances. Besides, they all have to work with a script that has more of the daily vernacular over trite declarations.
There’s something conventional about the way the film looks but there’s some intention here. It doesn’t have the heavy hand that we see in conventional romcoms, thankfully. Flashes of colour and neon highlight the warm nights that surround the characters. These are people who settle their affairs in bars and restaurants, their drama happening in these public arenas. There’s also these characters’ homes. As a carpenter Will spends a lot of time building. He makes furniture that are loyal to Lydia’s whims. There’s also the home he wants to create for himself and Lydia. Sure, his job is a bit obvious of a metaphor to reflect his relationship. But there’s also a specificity to it that lets the audience forgive the flaws.
- Release Date: 2/9/2018