File Under 2018 #43: Permission


What it's about: Anna and Will [Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens] are a happy couple who have been together since they were kids. They have the perfect relationship but it's the only relationship they've had. When a friend tells them they should try sleeping with other people so they don't regret never having the experience, the idea starts to grow as something viable. Anna immediately picks up up a hot musician and has a good time. This leaves Will in a tough spot, now basically required to complete the deal to not make things weird. Unsurprisingly, though, their relationship has been forever changed and Anna and Will must deal with the insecurities, comparisons, and the rules of their obviously terrible plan.

Unorganized thoughts:

  • It is a high concept as old as romantic relationships. That puts Permission in a tough spot. Can it overcome or avoid the cliches and obvious genre elements, the familiar dramatic steps? Not really. Though Anna and Will's relationship experiment isn't the only thing Permission is concerned with, it is fairly predictable.

  • Lead performers Hall and Stevens are likable and charismatic enough to stay invested. Honestly, I don't know if you could put together a pair of actors together in an indie rom-com that I would like more.

  • Permission takes on the internal conflicts a bit too easily, becoming more explicitly about the moral questions at hand. Part of this comes from a sounding board structure where Anna and Will each have a pair where they can more openly talk about their feelings and conflicts. Anna is paired with her brother, who gets his own side conflict about wanting to adopt a baby with his long term partner, who happens to be Will's college roomate, business partner, and personal sounding board. This structure makes Hale and Reece, characters we are meant to follow on their own relationship journey, more like idea generators than actual characters.

  • What makes this especially wonky is that Reece, the person who initially introduced the experiment idea, becomes quickly against what Will is doing.

  • It is a little silly that as soon as sleeping with other people becomes a possibility, both Anna and Will naturally find a partner. Then again, as two extremely beautiful people, maybe it isn't unrealistic.

  • Anna is paired with a brilliant and hunky musician who can challenge Dan Stevens on looks and coolness. Interestingly, Will begins sleeping with an older woman [played by the stunning Gina Gershon] but her age never becomes a plot point. Some of this might be Gershon's cinematic sexual persona. I found it pretty refreshing that the nearly 20-year age difference between the actors didn't have to be a thing.

  • Equal opportunity full frontal nudity alert!

  • A lot of blatant New York neighborhood name drops like "This is Park Slope" and "I'm never coming to Chelsea again."

  • Ultimately, the purpose of the set-up is to get these very comfortable lovers to break out of their conventions and think about what they really want sexually. Permission could be a frank, honest pro-sex film. What Will has to overcome, however, is something so inane and played comically that any resonance the plot could have is lost.

  • Yet another indie about an artisan furniture maker. Seriously, this has gotten into magazine executive territory.

  • Unfortunately, Permission builds character tension in a pretty cheap way. I know it is tough to judge a film based on what "real people" would do, but I couldn't help but think of how the film makes some pretty easy omissions to have any sense of dramatic stakes. In a realistic situation, ground rules would obviously be set. While some rules are talked about between the characters, it would have been more responsible for one to be making sure the random partners would be made aware of the unusual circumstances. But Anna's story, in particular, needs to have some conflict, so she leads her music hunk on all to set up a dramatic fight by dodging the questions of why she can't fully commit. She can't even admit to it in the moment she walks away from him.

  • Surprisingly, Jason Sudeikis shows up in a running subplot with Anna's brother. He's a recent father who sits at the park so his baby can sleep, spurring on Hale's want to have his own baby. Unfortunately, Sudeikis is pretty wasted. He's important to the subplot, but is restricted in having much of a personality.