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Parents' Guide to


By Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 17+

Lots of sex in drama about longtime couple's experiment.

Movie NR 2018 96 minutes
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The film wants to dive into the waters of polyamory, but -- like most real couples thinking about it -- it's too timid to do more than dip its toe. Permission is kind of a New York sex comedy à la Woody Allen, but it doesn't feel like New York, the characters don't seem like New Yorkers (both leads are Brits), it's not particularly funny (the film takes itself pretty seriously, despite stabs at humor), and there's none of Allen's wit or insight. The plot movement is predictable (the characters decide to see other people, and the very next scene introduces Viable Option No. 1), and the characters' sexual experiences are depicted with an antiseptic feeling. They're definitely not awful, even when they probably should be; they're also definitely not mind-blowing, even when they probably should be. Compounding this is the lack of chemistry between Hall and Stevens. It's hard to root for them to stick together because, despite Anna and Will insisting that they love each other, we don't see it. We don't feel it. As a couple, they don't feel bonded by anything but history. (And from all indications, he's a lousy lover, so there's that.)

The characters' actions are also pretty mean. They involve other folks in their experiment without full disclosure. When an earnest person falls for one of them, that person is just plain out of luck -- and is treated with utter disdain. Not to mention the foolishness of their idea in the first place, which Reece actually tells them, repeatedly. Reece (who's played by actress/producer Hall's real-life husband), in fact, represents the most immediate presence in the film. He brings some muscular emotion to the role. But the entire B story in which he and Hale contemplate adoption feels extraneous. It's not explored with any depth; the realities of parenting are never considered, and we never see a serious discussion between them. Worst, though, is the film's almost genteel glance at Anna and Will's sexual adventures, especially Anna's. There's nudity, there are unusual locations. But none of it has the visceral power of, say, Shame or Eyes Wide Shut. The fear, the excitement, the eroticism -- none of it is present or accounted for. We're not drawn into the vortex with Anna because the whole exercise feels hesitant. This, on top of yet another depiction of New York in which nearly everyone is lily-white and has spectacular living spaces, sprinkled with forced laughs and unengaging banter. Apart from Spector's performance and a nice turn by Gina Gershon, the most memorable thing about Permission is Adam Bricker's lush, warm-toned cinematography (despite a fall/winter setting), which adds another romantic portrait of New York to the cinematic library.

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