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A Married Couple’s “Hall Pass” Review

A Married Couple’s “Hall Pass” Review (photo)

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True story: my wife Melissa’s first reaction to the trailer for the comedy “Hall Pass,” about two married men who are given a week off from fidelity by their wives, was to turn me and say “Before you even ask: yes, you can have a hall pass. But I get to chop off your balls first.”

She was kidding, of course (I think… I hope). But it didn’t matter. I don’t want a hall pass; hell, I didn’t even want to see “Hall Pass.” Until my wife made that joke, which gave me an idea: we should go see this movie together and review it together. After all, who better than a husband who writes about movies and a wife who knows way more about movies than her smarmy husband. It wasn’t easy to convince her, but a deal was struck. After the movie was over, we had a conversation which I recorded. And here it is:


Matt: First of all, thank you for going to see this with me, because I know you didn’t want to.

Melissa: No, I didn’t.

Matt: You saw it because I had this idea and guilted you into it.

Melissa: Correct.

Matt: And you’re not even getting paid to do this.

Melissa: Well, in a way I am.

Matt: Good point. Now you had a very strong negative reaction the first time you saw the trailer.

Melissa: It wasn’t that negative.  Simply a warning.


Matt: Right. I’m sure you had some expectations based on that trailer.  Did the movie surprise you in any way?

Melissa: No it was probably about as bad as I thought it would be.

Matt: Obviously you didn’t care for the premise. But we go see a lot of romantic comedies, and a lot of the recent guy-centric ones that feature a lot of really funny male characters and a lot of controlling, needy, not-that-funny female characters. Was this one any different?

Melissa: Even more than usual, I felt like the women in this movie weren’t even wives; they were mothers. Mothers to their kids and mothers to their husbands.

Matt: I’m really sort of fascinated, and honestly a bit confused, by the portrayals of men and women in this movie. What about the guys, Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis. Did you think their characters were fair or accurate representations of married guys?

Melissa: No men I know. But you’d probably know better. What do guys do when women aren’t around?



Matt: I don’t know if I can speak for all guys, but I mean I don’t stand around staring at women’s butts constantly the way they do.

Melissa: Or talk out of a giant vagina you made out of your hands?

Matt: No, I don’t do that either.

Melissa: Do you play poker and talk about how your wives aren’t hot?

Matt: That’s ridiculous. I don’t even play poker.

Melissa: Ha ha.  A lot of our guy friends are married though.  When you guys go and see a movie by yourselves do you check out women together?



Matt: No.  And I’m not just saying that because I’m going to publish this conversation later.  But I’m 30; these characters are a little older.  They’ve been married longer than we have.  One of them has a bunch of kids.  So they’ve got more reason to be bored, I suppose.

Melissa: But the movie makes it seem like they’ve been doing it for years.

Matt: True, it’s very ingrained behavior for them.

Melissa: And the movie also claimed that guys had no control over it, like every single guy has a uncontrollable, evolutionary, biological imperative to look at women’s asses.  There wasn’t a single person in the movie who was the voice of reason saying “I think this hall pass is an idiotic idea.”

Matt: I keep coming back to the question of who gets portrayed worse in the movie, men or women. The men are all scoundrels and horndogs, but eventually they’re revealed to be sweethearts, which is definitely a cliché of this kind of movie; the slobs always turn out to be sweeties.

Melissa: That one guy was not a sweetheart.

Matt: Well, I know why you’re saying that — I probably don’t want to spoil it in this piece, but let’s put it this way: when the chips are down, this particular character realizes he loves his wife.

Melissa: He realizes he loves his wife because he has no better options.

Matt: [laughs] Okay.

Melissa: He’s such a dork that he can’t get laid any other way. He talks a big game but the women he has a shot with aren’t anything special. His wife is clearly hotter than anyone he could hook up with.

Matt: Well that’s an excellent point.  But this is where I was going with that train of thought: the men are horny but inherently decent. The women are bloodless and kind of mean. Jenna Fischer doesn’t want to have sex with Owen Wilson so she pretends to be asleep when he tries to make a move.  And then later she tells Christina Applegate about this incident and Applegate’s character says something to the effect of “We’re women — we’re supposed to fake everything between the hours of 12 and 6 am.”

Melissa: That’s because she’s trapped in a loveless marriage and she doesn’t know what happiness means.

Matt: But isn’t that a horrible representation of women?  It’s supposed to be a funny line, I know, but –

Melissa: Well, the movie was written by guys, wasn’t it? Clearly a lot of this is a male fantasy, like the scene where Wilson and Sudeikis take their kids to the park and every woman there is 18, blond, and doing cartwheels in short shorts. 

Matt: Or what about that other scene where Sudeikis tries to convince Wilson to take the hall pass by telling him that his wife was living her dream life. Her dream was to be married and have kids and be a mom. Then Sudeikis claims this hall pass represents the equivalent gift.

Melissa: I keep telling you: those people should not be married.

Matt: Okay. Was Owen Wilson a better husband than Jason Sudeikis?

Melissa: Yeah but he was a better husband when the movie started.  Because — and maybe this was just a matter of better chemistry between the actors — he really seemed to love his wife.  There were mutual but solvable problems there: she felt unappreciated, he felt ignored. The other marriage, that’s just a broken relationship. They didn’t have any respect for one another. Any ending for that couple that doesn’t involve them realizing they’re terrible for each other and have nothing in common and should split up is not a happy ending.

Matt: I also thought it was strange how the women in “Hall Pass” only talk about their husbands. Literally every single conversation they have is about their men. Is that what you do when I’m not around?

Melissa: Oh, absolutely. But what about the guys — didn’t they mostly talk about their wives?

Matt: I don’t know, they did a lot of talking about weird sex stuff like whether they would rather kiss a man or receive oral sex from one.

Melissa: So really their only topic was sex.

Matt: Right.  And the women’s only topic was their husbands. 

Melissa: You may be right. They even talk about them with the guys they met.  Okay, so it is a little unfair. They didn’t talk about their kids once, either. Fischer and Applegate go to Cap Cod to give their husbands their hall pass, and then conveniently leave Fischer’s three kids with grandparents so they don’t need to be seen or heard from again. And they never even considered the possibility that Wilson or Sudeikis’ characters might like their hall passes so much they might want to end their marriages. It was either they wouldn’t get laid, realize how good they had it and come back, or get laid and go “What am I doing with my life?” and come back anyway. The possibility that they might hook up in a more meaningful way wasn’t brought up.

Matt: True.

Melissa: I’d be terrified of that in their position. There’s a bit of a double standard there, too.  The men have clearly been given the okay to cheat. But when Owen Wilson finds out that his wife might be cheating too, he freaks out. Like it didn’t ever dawn on him that she might get a hall pass this week too. 

Matt: Were there any moments that you thought accurately portrayed a marriage?

Melissa: Just that marriage is hard sometimes, I guess.

Matt: One thing I didn’t quite get was why it took Wilson and Sudeikis so long to think of going to a club to meet women.

Melissa: Especially since they live in Providence, which has more clubs than any city I’ve ever been to.

Matt: They literally needed someone to come and take them by the hand to a club because they were too stupid to figure that out on their own.  Which I guess was part of the point, that men are stupid.

Melissa: So why do you think the women are portrayed so badly? The men are portrayed horribly!

Matt: It’s a good question. I see a movie like this and I’m immediately sensitive to the depiction of women, because the depictions of women in movies like this are always so terrible.  But you’re right. The men in this movie are stupid, they’re led around by their penises, they have terrible fashion senses, bad haircuts, terrible diets, bad physiques.  Not a flattering picture of manhood. So why is it that the women side of it upsets me so much? Maybe it’s because the men are portrayed poorly but…

Melissa: — They’re funny.

Matt: Exactly. We’re supposed to embrace their flaws.  They’re supposed to make them charming.  Meanwhile, the women are joking about how it’s their job to leave their men unfulfilled. The men’s jokes make us like they more. The women’s jokes make us like them less.

Melissa: But not all the women in it are killjoys.  I actually liked the scene where the guys are playing poker and Fischer comes home and says hi and then leaves the guys alone to have their space.  That’s a nice moment.

Matt: That’s true.  So where is my impression coming from then?


Melissa: I don’t know.  That one line about faking orgasms, apparently.

Matt: That one line stuck in my craw, I guess. So who do you think this movie is for: men or women or both?

Melissa: Judging from the audience we saw it, men, clearly.  The men were cackling and the women were not laughing.  I think one woman even dropped a grumpy “Oh no he didn’t!” at one point.

Matt: She did, yes.

Melissa: That was the extent of the female reaction in our audience.

Matt: Because women are killjoys. 

[awkward silence]

Matt: Okay, that was a joke.  I try to think who this movie is supposed to entertain.  Would you recommend this movie to a married couple to go see on a date night?

Melissa: No.  Wait, maybe. Seeing it might make you feel better about your marriage.

Matt: Or it could lead to that discussion of hall passes, and men asking for them and women being furious that they asked for one.

Melissa: So it sets up women to be killjoys again.

Matt: Or it sets up couples to argue.  The one thing I did like about “Hall Pass” was the fact that the film was told from this horny male perspective but the film constantly undercut that heterosexual bravado by featuring more male nudity than female. The biggest sexual object in the film besides the young coffee girl who starts flirting with Owen Wilson was the Cape Cod baseball player who takes an interest in Christina Applegate. I didn’t time it, but I would guess the hot baseball player was topless for a lot longer than the hot coffee girl. And he might have even had a better figure than she did.

Melissa: Oh yeah he did.

[awkward silence]

Melissa: What? Oh, don’t give me that look.

Trump Funny or Die

Art of the Spoof

Watch Johnny Depp, Jack McBrayer, Patton Oswalt and More in Funny or Die’s Donald Trump Biopic

Johnny Depp just got very classy.

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Photo Credit: Funny or Die

We’re barely halfway through February, but this year’s Too Many Cooks Award for the most bizarre comedy project is already a lock. Blindsiding the world with greatness without any warning, Funny or Die released a 50-minute Donald Trump parody starring an unrecognizable Johnny Depp as Donny.

Ron Howard introduces this “lost” 1988 TV movie adaptation of Trump’s how-to manual The Art of the Deal produced with the retro quality of a Wendy’s training video. Along for the big hair and shoulder pads flashback are Patton Oswalt, Alfred Molina, Todd Margaret‘s Jack McBrayer, Andy Richter, Rob Huebel, Jason Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer, and Michaela Watkins as Ivana — as well as many Reagan-era surprises like a cameo from that loveable cat eater ALF and a theme song by Kenny Loggins.

Much like Eric Jonrosh of The Spoils Before Dying and The Spoils of Babylon fame, “Trump” writes, directs, and narrates his own epic tale of real estate wheelings-and-dealings. Check out the trailer below, and head over to Funny or Die to watch the full Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal movie before the real Donald sics his army of lawyers on Will Ferrell and company. (For more bizarro Johnny Depp characters, be sure to catch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory this month on IFC.)

“Loveless,” Reviewed

“Loveless,” Reviewed (photo)

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Whereas most men would refrain from approaching a woman he just saw pulling the hair of another in a bar, Andrew (Andrew von Urtz) walks towards her. It isn’t the first clue in Ramin Serry’s comedy “Loveless” that something is amiss about Andrew, though it is the clearest indication of what’s kept him without obligations of any kind other than a desk job he hates as he nears middle age. He’s also an aspiring filmmaker who uses the promise of his script to bait women into putting up with his advances and projects a certain urbaneness even if he’s utterly unhip.

Like the two women who do find themselves attracted to Andrew during the course of “Loveless,” one’s appreciation of the film may hinge on your tolerance of its central character’s dry wit and lack of ambition, not only since you’re spending 96 minutes in his company, but from storytelling perspective, form and function are largely the same thing. Which isn’t to say “Loveless” isn’t ambitious – just the opposite, in fact, since it is hardly as easy as it looks to make a film as comfortable in its own skin as Serry’s is.

The plot points, such as they are, revolve around Andrew’s handling of Ava (Genevieve Hudson-Price), the irrational younger woman he meets mid-fight at the bar, and Joanna (Cindy Chastain), an ex-girlfriend his own age who rekindles their relationship while trying to find financing for his film. There is some dramatic tension to be mined from questions of whether the love triangle will be resolved or whether Andrew will ever get to make his film, yet the film is largely driven by what Serry is able to find in the nooks and crannies of Andrew’s personality, which is oddly confident despite any signs of success.

Somehow, it wasn’t surprising to learn later that the film’s production style – including a cast made up of mostly nonprofessional actors (save for a brilliantly loony Scott Cohen as Ava’s obsessive big brother) and a setting mostly in the filmmaker’s own apartment – was largely inspired by “Beeswax” writer/director Andrew Bujalski, whose gift has been to put authenticity first while always finding the humor and narrative along the way. “Loveless” is actually a little more strident in those latter two categories, but rarely feels forced, even when it involves Ava’s family’s funny (and creepy) tendency to talk aloud to their dead patriarch before making major decisions. That Serry occasionally shows up on screen as a friend of Andrew’s usually pushing a stroller or holding a baby is a fair analogy for the film itself, given the amount of care that’s put into it. Unlike Andrew, “Loveless” is able to have it all.

“Loveless” is now open in New York.

“Cedar Rapids,” Reviewed

“Cedar Rapids,” Reviewed (photo)

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The talent level in “Cedar Rapids”‘ is all out of proportion to the quality of the material. The screenplay is thoroughly forgettable but just listen to this cast: Ed Helms, John C. Reilly, Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root, Kurtwood Smith, Alia Shawkat, and Sigourney Weaver. Their director is Miguel Arteta, who made the supremely squirmy “Chuck & Buck” and last year’s underrated Michael Cera vehicle “Youth in Revolt.” How did so many wonderful actors and a smart filmmaker all wind up attached to such a nothing script? This is clearly a low budget film. They’re not doing it for the paycheck. Do they all share the same agent or something?

Helms stars as Tim Lippe, a naïve insurance salesman from Brown Valley, Wisconsin. After Tim’s firm’s star salesman dies, he’s sent to replace him at an important insurance convention in Cedar Rapids. Tim’s boss BIll (Root) needs him to win the coveted “2 Diamonds Award” for outstanding insurance company, but Tim is totally unprepared for this assignment. He’s never left Brown Valley, much less flown on an airplane, much less been to a big bad city like Cedar Rapids. So he’ll need to bear down. That means focusing on his work and avoiding infamous convention wild man Dean Ziegler (John C. Reilly) at all costs.

BIll warns Tim to avoid the hard-partying Dean, so naturally a plot contrivance makes them roommates instead. And thank goodness it does because Reilly immediately brightens a heretofore bland movie with his live-wire presence. His Dean is pure irrepressible id, the perfect devil on the shoulder for a guy like Tim, who’s lived his whole life by a code of asceticism you usually only see practiced by clergymen and solitary astronauts on decades-long expeditions to the Planet of the Apes. Arteta also used Reilly to equally good effect in his 2002 film “The Good Girl.” In both cases he plays the role of the character too charming to be despicable. The funniest moment in “Cedar Rapids” isn’t provided by a witty joke or a clever line of dialogue. It’s a look Reilly gives when he’s caught by someone with a trashcan lid on his head. This guy doesn’t just steal the movie; he rips it off and pirates it on the Internet.

“Cedar Rapids”‘ corporate satire isn’t especially sharp, but the mood throughout is consistently warm and likable. Helms makes Tim’s extreme innocence charming (if not especially hilarious) and, just like in “The Hangover,” he remains the sort of nerdy actor audiences enjoy watching get defiled. Anne Heche is the one in charge of most of the defiling, as another conventioneer who pals around with Dean and third roommate Ronald (Whitlock Jr.) and takes a liking to the new kid on the block. Heche’s good too; charming, flirty, and casual. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed her in a movie this much.

The quest for the 2 Diamonds Award bogs “Cedar Rapids” down with way too many plot twists and character reversals. There’s also a really egregious hooker with a heart of gold who’s also wise beyond her years and gets to enunciate the film’s big point (“We’re all just selling…”). The film is at its best at its simplest, when it gets out of its own way and just lets us endure this very tiresome corporate retreat’s bizarre customs and rituals with that core four — Helms, Heche, Whitlock Jr., and especially Reilly. I’m still not entirely sure what these folks saw in “Cedar Rapids.” Maybe it was just an opportunity to work together. In that sense, they made the most of it.

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