‘Hall Pass’ and ‘Barney’s Version’: ’Til Mirth Do Us Part?
Bruce Fretts: Dear Bret, we are gathered here today to critique a couple of movies that paint very skewed portraits of matrimony: The Farrelly Brothers’ Hall Pass and Paul Giamatti’s Oscar-nominated Barney’s Version. The question is: Can these marriage-themed films be saved?
Bret Watson: My efforts to see Hall Pass were a victim of global storming. I got caught in a traffic jam due to flooding. Then a few hours later I caught a cold. I’d say I’m sick as a dog, except I don’t know why people always pick on dogs. Are dogs notably ill?
Bruce: Maybe it’s because they like to lick themselves. That’s the kind of humor the Farrelly Brothers are famous for.
Bret: I interviewed the Farrelly brothers when Kingpin came out. Didn’t like the movie but liked them a lot. They haven’t had a winner in years. So I’m guessing you don’t have encouraging news about Hall Pass?
Bruce: You were lucky to take a pass. The concept, about a pair of frustrated wives (Jenna Fischer and Christina Applegate) who give their horny husbands (Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis) a week off from marriage, is strained, and the comedic payoff is minimal. And if you’re feeling sick now, be glad you didn’t sit through the explosive diarrhea scene. It was funnier when the Farrellys did it in Dumb and Dumber.
Bret: That’s their trademark: the disgusting bodily fluid gag. And I mean “gag” quite literally.
Bruce: But the Farrellys also want this film to have a heart, and as a result, the tone is wildly uneven. Then again, I felt the same way about There’s Something About Mary, and everybody else loved that movie. There’s a masturbation gag in this one, too, but despite a promising setup (Sudeikis is pleasuring himself in his car outside his house to the tune of Styx’s “The Best of Times” when the cops bust him), there’s no real, um, climax.
Bret: I had high hopes from the commercials, since the movie has a strong cast. And the trailer actually had a few promising jokes, which seems to be rare in “comedies” these days. How did the cast acquit itself?
Bruce: The cast is gifted, but they’re not well-used. The Farrellys don’t give the women anything amusing to do (even though Applegate and Fischer have proven they can be funny on sitcoms), and Wilson and Sudeikis play such losers that not much happens for the first two-thirds of the film. The joke is they’re free but they can’t get any action, and as a result, it’s pretty dull. A couple of their married pals come along for the ride, and they’re played by talented actors (J.B. Smoove, aka Leon from Curb Your Enthusiasm and Stephen Merchant, aka Ricky Gervais’ comic partner), but they drop out early because the lead guys are so boring. I don’t blame them for bailing!
Bret: Speaking of Curb: Didn’t Larry David do this whole premise better, during the season his wife said he could have a fling? And the revelation is that it’s a lot easier said than done. I assumed this movie would rehash that conclusion.
Bruce: Good point. Eventually they get some action, and the last third of the movie is like a watered-down version of The Hangover, but it’s too much, too late. I fear the hangover from that movie’s success will haunt us for years. Before Hall Pass, I saw trailers for The Hangover, Part II and Kristen Wiig’s Bridesmaids, which looks like a female version of The Hangover. At least maybe the girls will get something funny to do in that one for a change.
Bret: Well, it seems like the boys’ club in Hollywood doesn’t know to write funny stuff for anyone except other boys, as we witnessed in Cedar Rapids.
Bruce: True, but I thought Cedar Rapids was the rare movie that was able to mix outrageous humor with heart and not seem schizophrenic. One of the few others was Howard Stern’s Private Parts, a love letter to the shock jock’s (now ex-)wife that also launched the career of Paul Giamatti as the hilariously frustrated station manager nicknamed “Pig Vomit.” It’s been great to watch Giamatti grow into a leading man, and he won a Golden Globe for Barney’s Version. I haven’t seen it yet—did he deserve the award?
Bret: Absolutely. He is a delight to watch as a curmudgeon who starts the movie by calling his ex-wife’s new husband to taunt him with the idea that he has naked photos of her. He’s the head of a TV company called Totally Unnecessary Productions, and his favorite hang-out is a bar called Grumpy’s. I thought, This has Bruce Fretts written all over it!
Bruce: I’m sold! I also saw a trailer for another film starring Giamatti, a high-school wrestling comedy called Win Win, that looks terrific. I love the fact that I live in a country where a shlubby-looking but prodigiously talented guy Paul Giamatti can be a movie star, even though Barney’s hasn’t been a big hit.
Bret: I think the movie has had a hard time finding an audience because it’s hard to like his character, as the main instrument of destruction in several marriages. For instance, he meets the woman of his dreams at his own wedding to another woman, then pursues her doggedly.
Bruce: Yeah, it’s hard to get audiences to want to see a movie about a serial adulterer. That could be a problem for the John Edwards biopic that Aaron Sorkin’s been trying to get off the ground.
Bret: If anyone can pull that off, it’s Sorkin, but I remain skeptical. I saw Barney’s Version with my friend Brian and he thought the movie was just silly. But I enjoyed the performances so much, I was hooked. Aside from the outstanding Giamatti, Dustin Hoffman is hilarious as his retired-cop Jewish dad.
Bruce: It’s hard for me to picture Dustin Hoffman as Giamatti’s dad—reminds me of the movie Family Business, which cast Sean Connery as Hoffman’s father. But Giamatti and Hoffman are such good actors that I’m not surprised they pulled it off. And I’m glad Dustin’s doing better material than those awful Fockers movies.
Bret: You have a point, but it’s a sign of their acting talent that I didn’t for a moment pause to say, They’re related? Their chemistry, as it were, is excellent. Hoffman would’ve stolen the movie from a lesser lead.
Bruce: What about Giamatti’s chemistry with his leading ladies? I’ve seen clips of Minnie Driver in the film, and she seems a bit overbearing. I thought to myself: Funny, she doesn’t look shrewish.
Bret: Ha! It’s her character. Barney has made a dreadful mistake in marrying her. I’d say she’s a JAP, but she’s Canadian.
Bruce: Does Barney’s Version ultimately believe in the possibility of true love within marriage?
Bret: The movie says that marriage can be wonderful if you don’t go outside it—no hall passes, ever.
Bruce: Whereas Hall Pass seems to be saying marriage can be a suffocating burden—but it still beats being single. Not exactly the most inspiring message to a once-again freshly unattached guy like me.
Bret: You are a serial bachelor.
Bruce: Beats being a serial killer, I guess.
Bret: By the way: There’s also a murder mystery in Barney’s Version, with Barney as the suspect. It’s resolved with a twist on an old “urban legend” sort of story, and I enjoyed it so much I giggled with glee—to the confusion of everyone sitting near me.
Bruce: I had the opposite problem in Hall Pass. I was confused why everyone else (except my companion Margaret, who saw it with me and to whom I now must publicly apologize) was laughing around me.
Bret: Hey, you can think of your being single again as having a long-term hall pass! Wanna go to Applebee’s tonight like they do in the movie? I can be your wing man, though I’ll be in it only for the wings.
Bruce: I’m more of a breast man.
Bret: I’ll call Hooters. Maybe they can squeeze us in.
Have you seen Hall Pass or Barney’s Version? Is marriage a laughing matter? Post a comment, and Two Cranky Guys will respond!