'Permission': Film Review

An unconvincing treatment of familiar themes.

Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens star in Brian Crano's comedy-drama about a couple who decide to find other lovers.

It becomes obvious from the opening scene that the central characters in Brian Cano's romantic dramedy Permission have relationship issues. We see longtime couple Anna (Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) engaging in some missionary-style, rudimentary sex that ends all too quickly. As soon as it's over, Will turns over and Anna asks what must surely be a recurring question: "Where's the remote?"

Permission is the latest cinematic attempt to explore the issue of monogamy in relationships. Unlike so many previous films that exploited the topic for ribald comedy, this effort adopts a more serious, at times even mournful tone. Which is not to say that it doesn't attempt, with little success, to provide a few laughs along the way.

Anna and Will were each other's first loves, and neither has had sex with anybody else. Now, with Anna about to turn 30, Will is ready to propose and the couple is preparing to move into a new house together. But during a birthday dinner, Will's friend and business partner Reese (Morgan Spector) points out to them that the only way they'll know if they're truly meant to be together is if they each sleep with other people first. Although Will is resistant, Anna quickly warms to the idea.

They go about their newfound freedom in the unbelievable way that only happens in movies. Going to a bar together, Anna is quickly picked up by the sexy and handsome Dane (Francois Arnaud), a musician (of course), as Will simultaneously encourages them and looks pained with jealousy. Anna winds up going home with Dane, but before sleeping with him she thoughtfully texts Will to make sure he's really okay with it. Since the movie would be quickly over if he declines, Will gives his permission.

Needless to say, things between them are awkward when she gets home later that night. Pressed for details by Will, Anna grudgingly describes her new lover as "looser," which is like a dagger in Will's heart. As Anna continues to see Dane, who begins indicating that he's falling in love with her, Will eventually gets to the most burning question: "Is he bigger than me?"

It isn't long before Will gets his own opportunity to test the waters, with Lydia (Gina Gershon), a sexy older woman who enters the handmade furniture shop he owns with Reese and basically throws herself at him. When he delivers a table to her lavish apartment that night, the two begin a relationship in which she introduces him to uninhibited sex and psychedelic drugs. He feels so liberated, in fact, that he takes the opportunity of indulging his long-suppressed sexual fantasy, one that involves spitting in her open mouth.

Interwoven with Anna and Will's romantic adventures is a storyline involving the long-term relationship between Reese and Anna's brother Hale (Joseph David Craig) that becomes threatened by Hale's increasing desire for them to have a child. Fueling Hale's parental desire are his friendly interactions with Glenn (a nicely underplaying Jason Sudeikis), a new father who regularly brings his infant son to the park.

Helmer-screenwriter Cano fails to establish a consistent tone or air of believability to the proceedings, and his directorial flourishes, such as when a despondent Will walks past a burning car that all too obviously symbolizes his inner turmoil, call too much attention to themselves. The performances are also problematic; much like the lovers they're portraying, Hall and Stevens seem out of sync, the former too buttoned-up and the latter sometimes overdoing the comic shtick. Ironically, it's the scenes involving Hale and Reese, as well as Glenn, that carry the most emotional weight, which is a bit of a problem since the film is primarily concerned with Anna and Will's relationship issues.

Trafficking in familiar themes, Permission ultimately doesn't have anything very new to say about them. That things are not going to end well for its lead characters seems a foregone conclusion; if not to them, then certainly to the viewer.

Production companies: Ball and Chain Productions, Picture Films, Manor Film, Circadian Pictures
Distributor: Good Deed Entertainment
Cast: Dan Stevens, Rebecca Hall, David Joseph Craig, Morgan Spector, Gina Gershon, Francois Arnaud, Jason Sudeikis, Sarah Steele
Director-screenwriter: Brian Crano
Producers: Rebecca Hall, Margot Hand, Giri Tharan, Joshua Thurston
Executive producers: Brian Crano, Erika Hampson, Michael Klein, Viviana Zarragoitia
Director of photography: Adam Bricker
Production designer: Davi Meyer
Editor: Matt Friedman
Composers: Thomas Bartlett, Joan as Police Woman
Costume designer: Cassidy M. Mosher
Casting: Henry Russell Bergstein, Stephanie Holbrook

96 minutes