Review: 'Permission' Starring Rebecca Hall And Dan Stevens

I've known a few "childhood sweetheart" couples in my lifetime, the ones who swear they've only loved one another and been with nobody else. They're always regarded with suspicion, because how can you possibly know if you're with the right person if there's no one to compare them to? Brian Crano's sophomore film Permission explores the practicality of monogamy with honesty and thoughtfulness, which is more than can be said for others that take on this potentially thorny subject matter. Being authentic and forthright are desirable traits, especially for a movie concerned with adult issues, but it doesn't always make for the best drama.

Ironically, the best moments in Permission come from those who give the film a comedic punch in the nose. Or the movie's B-plot which has a flair of soapy theatricality to it. The central story is just barely engaging with the elaborate British performances of Dan Stevens and Rebecca Hall as Will and Anna. They've been together since college, both virgins at the time, and have been with no one else. We could say they've settled into a comfortable, playful groove that consists of joking about Will's terribleness in bed, but honestly it seems as if things have always been pretty bad there. Anna seems happy with it and Will has no reason to improve, so why bother? Besides, he's building a home for them in the heart of Brooklyn and that should be sufficient, right?

Of course not. Any relationship that has a chance in Hell of going anywhere will need a test for that commitment. As the walls of domesticity close in it's natural to get curious about what else may be out there, and Anna proposes something radical: She and Will are free to sleep with other people, just to confirm what they already know which is that they are destined to be together.

Danger, Will Robinson.

Permission succeeds in the small, heartfelt moments shared between Will and Anna, but their dating escapes are never quite as engaging. Anna finds success first, hooking up with Dane (Francois Arnaud), a musician she meets with Will acting as her super-awkward wingman. There are, naturally, mixed messages everywhere, and Crano is smart to pinpoint how half-truths and passivity can lead to disaster. Moments from bedding down with Dane, Anna stops to fire off a text to Will to make sure he's okay with it. "I am if U are" he shoots back.  Meanwhile, he adds a notch to his empty bedpost with Lydia (Gina Gershon), a rich divorcee who just happened to wander into his artisanal carpentry shop looking for some wood. The jokes write themselves.  Anna's romantic trysts never spark with the kind of energy Crano's script seems to think they have, while Will is introduced to hallucinatory drugs by Lydia. She's also willing to let him do the kinds of things sexually that he's unwilling to do with Anna, like spitting into her mouth which is as gross and shocking as it sounds. Gee, I wonder why Anna doesn't want him to do that?

This entire misadventure was the brainchild of Will's business partner Reece (Morgan Spector, Hall's real-life husband), who happens to be the lover of Anna's brother Hale (David Joseph Craig). They regret the encouragement immediately, perhaps realizing they've thrown a grenade into what had been a blissfully happy relationship. But Hale and Reece have their own problems to deal with, starting with Hale's desire for a family and Reece's unwillingness to give up that level of freedom. Jason Sudeikis, who co-starred with Hall in the excellent and similarly-toned Tumbledown a few years ago, plays a new father that Hale begins to latch on to, causing Reece to get a little bit jealous.

While there is little spark in Will and Anna's sexual escapades (They both bed a couple of random strangers, too), Crano finds surprising inspiration in the chemistry between Hale and Reece. Their dynamic has a lived-in, heartbreaking edge but there is mutual love and sexual attraction. That feeling is sadly missing from Will and Anna, with the heavily-mannered performances by Hall and Stevens never quite right for a young, hip Brooklyn couple. Put that aside, though, and what you have is a film that isn't afraid to ask tough questions and provide some difficult answers. Permission very easily could have devolved into the Farrelly Brothers comedy Hall Pass (Coincidentally co-starring Sudeikis!) under lesser guidance, but Crano is making a movie for adults to experience and discuss. I expect Permission will lead to some serious conversations about what true happiness means, and the steps that must be taken to achieve it.

Rating: 3 out of 5