Saturday, 18 July 2020

Movie Review: Permission (2017)


A romantic drama, Permission attempts an edgy take on couplehood challenges but gets caught between truncated courage and familiar convention.

In New York City, music student Anna (Rebecca Hall) and wood craftsman Will (Dan Stevens) are lifelong sweethearts approaching their thirties. He is building a house and planning to propose, but over dinner, a half-drunken Reece (Morgan Spector), Will's business partner and the boyfriend of Anna's bother Hale (David Joseph Craig), challenges the couple to consider experimenting with other sexual partners before they get hitched. 

The idea carries appeal and they give each other permission to sleep with others. Anna hooks up with musician Dane (Fran├žois Arnaud), while Will sleeps with cougar client Lydia (Gina Gershon). The affairs complicate their relationship, but they push ahead with other physical liaisons. Meanwhile Hale's desire to adopt a child is not shared by Reece, leading to conflict in that relationship.

An independent production willing to venture into more original terrain, Permission proposes a curious enough premise with a long-established couple agreeing to experiment with sexual affairs. As relationship tests go, sleeping around with strangers for the sole purpose of avoiding lifelong monogamy is extreme sport.

But writer and director Brian Crano shortchanges the narrative opportunities, reducing the experiment consequences to petty arguments about sexual performance and appendage size. Will and Anna avoid probing revelations, side-stepping meaningful discussions about what the liaisons are exposing in terms of individual emotions and relationship weaknesses. Instead Will's resentment emerges in questions about the quality of the sex sessions between Anna and Dane, vanilla jealousy a disappointingly trite trajectory for the movie to pursue. 

Also absent is the foundational basis for the love between the couple. Anna and Will are presented as lovers from a young age and always intended for each other, but their bond is not demonstrated in any essential way, while their mechanical sex hints at an already stale relationship. When adversity strikes, they have little to lean back on.

For a relatively short 96 minute movie, Permission both leaves too much unsaid and spreads itself too thin. The child adoption drama between Reece and Hale is a tired tension source and mainly serves to get in the way, a gay couple grappling with financial stress and diverging family ambitions questionably presented as a novelty. A subplot at the park playground where Hale befriends an exhausted new father (Jason Sudeikis) is lost in the shuffle.

Permission looks gorgeous, Crano bathing the movie in cool purple neons and crisp darkness. But the gleaming packaging cannot hide a core more squishy than brave.






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