Outside Mullingar – Theatre Review

There are four characters. They’re Irish, and when they speak, everything is confrontational. One is accusatory, the other, defensive. Then they reverse roles; the one on the defense is now the accuser, and so on. And they shout. It’s how they communicate. Trying to make a point or getting to the heart of what they mean to say can take forever, even a lifetime. Throughout their lives there’s been no other way.

In John Patrick Shanley’s romantic comedy/drama, Outside Mullingar, there are two middle-aged farmers, Anthony Reilly (Larry Bull) and Rosemary Muldoon (Cassandra Bissell). Their lands sit side by side. The Reilly’s and the Muldoon’s have known each other all their lives, but being true to their roots, traditions, and personal values, they haven’t always got along. In reality, they probably have, but you can’t tell from they way they speak.

When the play opens, the rain is streaming, enshrouding the overall tone with a sense of gloom, reflecting not only an atmospheric awareness of how the characters feel, but a literal sense as to how the weather often occurs in Ireland’s country midlands. Mullingar is a real town, nestled in County Westmeath. As the title suggests, the Reilly’s and Muldoon’s live in the country, just outside of town. It rains a lot there.

Old man Tony Reilly (John Hutton) and his forty-something son, Anthony, have just returned from their neighbor’s funeral. Old man Muldoon from next door has passed away, leaving his farm land in the hands of his widow, the elderly Aoife (Robynn Rodriguez) and his daughter, Rosemary. It’ll be a while until we meet Rosemary, but she, like everything else in the lives of these characters, will be discussed at some length in scene one. “You’ll be dead within a year,” the bearded Tony will declare to the widow, then adds, “Me? I’ll be dead within two months.”

The first issue at hand is one of inheritance. Tony, who smokes too much, doesn’t believe his son is of the land. In fact, he thinks there may be something ‘cracked’ about the boy, convinced he’s not so much a Reilly, but a Kelly, a descendant of the ‘cracked’ grandfather on his departed wife’s side, the one who put his dog on trial for slander, seventy years ago. The old man will leave his son some money, but the land itself is another matter. He intends to sell it to his cousin in America, who’ll pass everything on to his American son, recalled from an earlier visit for his diminutive stature. “I remember him,” states the widow, regarding the boy. “He looked like a stump.”

But there’s something of which Tony is unaware. The land next door doesn’t belong to the widow Aoife, but to her fiery daughter, Rosemary, and here’s the catch. A while back, when Tony needed the money, he sold a small patch of land to the Muldoons, the part that gives access to his own farm. Discovering that it’s Rosemary who now owns that patch changes everything. She has no intention of selling a thing, and that makes a sale of the Reilly land difficult.

The second issue is Anthony’s future. Clinging to events of the past, events that for anyone else from a different culture would be of no significance, have isolated Anthony. As discussed in that opening scene, there are all kinds of secrets that to date have remained hidden. Old man Tony talks of taking a certain oath he once swore on the bible, but whatever that oath happened to be is never to be discussed. The younger Anthony once told a secret about himself to a local lass when he was just a teenager, but whatever that secret was resulted with the girl running for cover; to this day, Anthony has never spoke of what he whispered. Plus, there’s conflict between Anthony and Rosemary. When Anthony was just 13, he pushed the neighboring 6 year-old girl to the ground. She’s never forgotten it. The grudge persists. “I don’t hate ya,” Rosemary tells Anthony. “I just don’t like ya.

Knowing the construct of Shanley’s writing, the final scene will reveal all secrets. Before we get there, there’ll be more rain, the occasional clap of thunder, more emotionally charged exchanges, and a death scene, touching in the way that when characters now aware that time has run out, finally express their feelings without delay or conflict.

Interestingly, when Anthony summons the nerve to tell Rosemary what it was he whispered in the ear of that local lass all those years ago – the secret that made the little girl take flight – the actual reveal is ‘cracked’ enough to be, frankly, ludicrous. Audiences will laugh. The whole exchange, like most of this wonderful Arizona Theatre Company production under David Ivers’ direction, told without intermission, is flawlessly performed, but the laugh doesn’t belong to Anthony’s absurd secret, it’s Rosemary’s reaction, the lengthy, silent pause that follows as she tries to make sense of what she just heard, and struggles to come up with the perfect response. The laugh belongs to Rosemary. Like her, we’re wondering what could possibly be said next.

The rain outside may continue. This is, after all, Ireland’s midlands. But it’s all too obvious in a thoroughly engaging, funny, and well written play of unrequited, romantic love revolving around two people who should have always been together from the beginning, those inner clouds will be lifted. The sun in their lives that should have been there will eventually shine.

Have you ever wondered what I wore when I wore… less? Rosemary asks Anthony. In a country culture when communicating even the simplest of things means leaving Point A, then climbing over hurdle after hurdle, in addition to several augmentative asides, in order to get to Point B is how everything is discussed, it will take Anthony some time to answer. But eventually he will. And when he does, it’s one of the most satisfying conclusions to a play seen in awhile. And it’s enough that when it’s done and the applause is over, you’ll want to run back and see the whole attractive and ultimately charming production all over again.

Outside Mullingar continues at Herberger Theater Center, Phoenix until March 4

Pictures Courtesy of Tim Fuller

Posted in Theatre

The Boob Show – Theatre Review: Phoenix Theatre’s Hardes Theatre, Phoenix

The Boob Show is a play about a girl who goes to Michigan. At least, that was her intended destination. But she never gets there. There’s a bump in the way. A literal bump, and it changes the course of her direction.

As written in the notes from the playwright section of the play’s Phoenix Theatre program, a while back, playwright/lyricist/composer and actor, Sally Jo Bannow began treatment for breast cancer. That was in 2003. Like any bump in the road, it changed her direction. Since then, it’s proved to be a long journey to the eventual world premiere of her one-woman comedy, The Boob Show, inspired from what was learned in 2003 until now. And if nothing else, it’s been therapeutic. Writing, re-writing, developing further, and writing some more has helped Sally Jo release her fears. The Boob Show is a tribute to the women who paved the way before her so that Sally Jo could live. Make sure you read those notes; it puts what you’re about to see in perspective.

Perhaps calling the show a one-woman play isn’t completely true. Musician Craig Bohmler later teamed with Sally Jo and helped her shape some of the music she had already written, then remained and co-wrote new material. Craig is the show’s music director and sole musician; he’s on-stage throughout, either seated behind the piano, or occasionally engaged in a sketch with Sally Jo. In keeping with the subject and its style of humor, when Sally Jo asks what he’s doing there, he replies, “I was hired to lift and support you.” Rimshot, please.

Directed by Michael Bernard, who also staged the musical sequences, as the title suggests, The Boob Show is about… well, boobs. Every nickname, every shape or size (and that includes man-boobs), and just about every attitude connected to the subject, they’re all there. As performed in Phoenix Theatre’s recently renovated and now considerably more comfortable Hardes Theatre, the setting for the comedy is in the city of Boobtropolis, scenic designer Douglas Clarke’s pink crazy-world imagining of a neighborhood not unlike Pee Wee’s Playhouse but with boobage.

The strength of the show is twofold. First, as a performer, Sally Jo Bannow is a bundle of positive energy, engaging her audience head-on the moment she bounces on stage. With a wide smile, and a thoroughly likable persona, whatever she has to tell you, you’re on her side before she’s begun. Throughout the play, the performer takes on several different, newly invented characters, each with its own voice and accent, ranging from Russian, German, English, to the deep south. As a preteen with a pink bow in her hair, she prays to the stars above to, “Please, please give me boobs by the time I turn fourteen.”

Second, the songs are generally good. Craig Bohmler’s influence on the melodies and their content is clearly evident, making the musical interludes with Sally Jo’s vocals first rate. Though several are intentionally humorous, as when the buxom character, Trixie, sings of how her cleavage makes makes men stupid, it’s the slower, poignant songs that work best. Though titles are not listed, the ballad of a mother and child, as Sally Jo breast feeds her baby, is particularly melodious and lyrically touching. It’s the same with a later, self-reflective song, presumably called There You Are; the tune is good, the lyrics, affecting, and Sally Jo’s delivery, just right. There’s even rap. “If you think I’ve lost my humor/You’ve never had a musical grown out of a tumor.” As for the more jaunty, comical songs, they may make light of things, but they’re less successful, as with a sing-a-long that names every known (and maybe unknown) slang term for breasts. Audiences are encouraged to join in as lyrics are projected on a screen. All you have to do is follow the bouncing boob.

But the subject feels stretched, and the laughs, mild at best. There’s invention to the situations and imagination to the various characters used to express them, but there’s an absence of clever, observational wit to the script, and real jokes are few. There’s nothing to bring the house down. But there are a ton of puns, as when one of the characters talks of a book she has written on the subject of boobs and calls it a “breast seller,” or when audiences are invited to take a trip, “Down Mammary Lane.” Plus, there’s repetition to the puns. When Sally Jo plays an entertainer in the Ruddy Udder Tap Room where her breasts become Leftie and Rightie Boob glove puppets, they declare, “We’re keeping you abreast at something you’re ignoring.” It’s amusing, but it feels as though the same comic ground is being covered; from sequence to sequence, it’s only the angle that’s different.

There’s no doubt, The Boob Show is a passion project, born of a personal crisis that was turned around and developed into something creative, and that is certainly admirable. Sally Jo’s climactic, impassioned rap, delivered with an ever-increasing, ardent fury, will get applause, as it should – it feels genuine and heartfelt – but in the end, with a running time of one hour and forty minutes, plus intermission, the play feels too long. There’s sixty minutes of something good. The rest, like an overstuffed bra, is just padding.

The Boob Show continues at Phoenix Theatre’s Hardes Theatre until March 25

Pictures Courtesy of Reg Madison Photography

Posted in Theatre

Early Man – Film Review

Look closely towards the end of the credits. You’ll see that the two dinosaurs wrestling each other during the opening moments of the new Aardman Animations stop-motion comedy, Early Man, are named Ray and Harry. To the young, it’ll mean nothing. To those who know their visual-effects classics, the mention is yet another great gag among the many that leap off the screen every minute or so. It’s a reference to the man who basically pioneered the use of stop-motion creatures, Ray Harryhausen. And strangely enough, when you see that introductory sequence with the jerky motion of the dinos as they grapple in front of an erupting volcano, it’s Harryhausen who springs to mind.

Early Man is the laugh-out-loud family feature from the British tribe who created Wallace and Gromit, and it truly is laugh-out loud. After the opening titles with the dinosaurs and the volcano telling us we’re in ‘The Neo-Pleistocene Age,’ followed by ‘Near Manchester,’ then a beat later, ‘Around Lunchtime,’ you’re already laughing. Then when a massive meteorite plummets to the earth, destroying everything, with the exception of a roach who slaps on a pair of sunglasses to protect itself from the glare, the laugh comes even louder, but with it comes a concern.

The film has only just begun, and already it’s produced three laughs, each progressively louder than the one before. Surely it can’t maintain the momentum of silliness for the remaining eighty-nine minutes? Well, it does, and like any jest-fest where jokes, puns, and sight-gags come at you every thirty seconds or so, don’t worry if you didn’t get a particular Brit reference or a moment of localized wit, there’ll be another big laugh you will understand in just a couple of moments.

After that plunging meteorite episode is done and the dust around the earth finally settles, it’s now the Stone Age, a time when men roamed the world in tribes, lived in caves, and hunted for food using sticks with pointy bits of rock at the end. For the tribe lead by Chief Bobnar (voiced by Timothy Spall in full cockney), the chief source of sustenance comes from rabbits – the tribe is not really equipped to hunt anything bigger, and the thought of chasing a woolly mammoth is way too much effort. Plus, the chief’s not one to get out of bed before sunrise. When enthusiastic caveman Dug (voiced by Eddie Redmayne) wakes the chief and tells him it’s time to go hunting, the elder complains, “Bit early, ‘n it, Dug?

What those cavemen don’t realize is that they’ve neglected to keep up with current events. Just over the hill, there’s another more civilized, educated tribe. They’re from the Bronze Age, and there’s just no beating them. When a Bronze Age army turns up in search of more buried bronze, trampling through the woods in a machine that Zach Snyder might have used in 2014’s 300: Rise of an Empire, the cavemen scatter, except for Dug, who is accidentally knocked into a basket where he hides and is eventually taken back to the Bronze Age village. As the villainous leader of the army, Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston) with the outrageous, Pythonesque French accent declares, “The Stone Age is over. Long live the age of bronze.”

Look closely as Dug wanders around the Bronze Age market place; there are sight-gags everywhere, including a poster for ‘Bum Soft Toilet Paper: The Number 2 Choice.’ Plus when a local customer tastes a free sample of the newly invented sliced bread from the bakery stand, he announces, “Wow. That’s the best thing since… forever!”

But Early Man isn’t just the adventures of a caveman out of his element, a man in fur with a pointy stick whose best friend is a wild boar named Hognob (animal grunts courtesy of the film’s director, Nick Park), it’s really a film about playing football. Not the one where the players run around carrying the ball, trampling over each other while accumulating yards, its the other one beloved by the rest of the world, the one where the talent is in using the feet (hence the name); the one that’s referred to as ‘The Beautiful Game.’

Interestingly, the practicing and the climactic playing of football between the Bronze Age team and those who (according to the film) actually invented it, the Cavemen, is something the advertising hype and the film’s stateside trailers neglected to mention. European audiences might see the film as a comical way of hooking on to the hype for the oncoming 2018 World Cup games. The rumored original title was, after all, Early Man-United. American audiences might not be quite so interested. But don’t let personal preferences or prejudices for what you consider to be the better game with the same name get in your way, this film is a true delight. As one of the two commentators narrating the climactic affair between the ages declares after a foul on the field is made, “That’s not cricket, whatever cricket is.

A lot of the non-stop humor comes not only from the jokes, but from the sound of the voices that deliver them. There’s no reason why characters who grew up in the same tribes as neighbors should sound cockney, Brummie, Geordie, Scottish, well-spoken, or even French, but they do, and it makes everything funny sound funnier. Plus, the old-fashioned style of claymation, where the movement in each frame is the result of a puppeteer’s handy-work rather than the overuse of a digital computer to smooth the effects, is such a pleasure to watch. From time to time you might even see a fingerprint or a plasterscene crease appear for just a fraction of a second on the bodies of the characters. And look as close as you can during a crowd shot; if you’re fast enough you should catch Wallace and Gromit in the stadium cheering on the teams.

MPAA Rating: PG     Length: 89 Minutes    Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)

Posted in Film

Black Panther – Film Review

If you go to the map section of the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, you’ll find the fictional nation of Wakanda surrounded by some other fictional nations, like Canaan and Narobia. You can’t miss it. Though, depending on what Marvel story you’re reading, or what film you happen to be watching, its exact position tends to move around a little. But that doesn’t matter. The point is, it’s an East African nation where long, long ago, a massive meteorite made from a valuable and equally fictional metal called Vibranium crashed.

As explained during a terrifically animated sequence at the beginning of the new superhero adventure, Black Panther, that meteorite and the metal it contained changed the fortune of the small African nation and its five tribes. As time passed, the Wakandans learned to use the metal in order to develop advanced technology beyond their wildest dreams. Plus, by drinking a liquid cultivated from a heart-shaped herb affected by the powerful metal, a human could develop superhuman abilities; a Black Panther. Wisely, until everyone knew what they were doing and what they had, Wakanda isolated itself from the rest of the world. As far as everyone else thought, Wakanda was nothing but an unimportant, third world country that kept moving around a little on the map. But in reality, at the center of its nation, it had the most advanced, futuristic city on Earth.

Of course, while every Marvel-reading, overly enthusiastic fanboy, or girl for that matter, already knows this, the rest of us didn’t. But again, like pin-pointing the exact position of that little African nation on the map, it doesn’t matter. The opening segment is so well executed, it’s a pleasure to watch. Plus, unlike that lengthy opener to David Lynch’s Dune where, to this day, I still can’t figure out what Virginia Madsen was talking about, director Ryan Coogler’s explanation of what happened 10,000 years ago in Wakanda makes perfect sense. Plus, and here’s what you’re really wanting to know: Black Panther is a great superhero movie. It’s to Marvel what Wonder Woman was to D.C. Comics; possibly the best of its kind.

The strength of this totally absorbing adventure is that while it’s all part of the Marvel universe, it’s a complete, stand-alone feature, absent of links to the rest of the superhero world. Down the road, with expected, mandatory sequels, things will be different, but here, as an origin story, the place where it all began, Black Panther is alone in its own universe. It creates its own world where, despite the fantasy, super-duper events that occur within, is all perfectly acceptable. There’s no problem suspending your disbelief; you buy the whole thing. Having Iron Man, Captain America, or any of those others dropping by would only break the spell and spoil things. But fortunately, they don’t, and that makes all the difference.

Once the nation’s backstory is complete, the film begins. After the usual, Hollywood establishing shot of London consisting of the River Thames and always the London Eye, not far away in a London museum, a historic weapon on display is swiped from its glass case. Unknown to the museum curators, the ancient weapon is actually made from Vibranium and should bring a fortune on the black market.

The thieves are Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a Wakandan exile who is only too aware of the metal’s power, and Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis), a murderous and totally off-balanced black-marketeer. The theft doesn’t go unnoticed by the new king of Wakanda, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), the nation’s current Black Panther. With the assistance of his female bodyguards, described earlier by one character as “two Grace Jones-looking chicks,” T’Challa leaves his nation to stop the thieves selling the artifact. There’s a thrilling chase through the streets of Busan, South Korea, but it doesn’t go well for our hero, and T’Challa is forced to return to Africa having let the bad guys slip through his panther claws. But then something unexpected happens about midway through the film, and when it occurs, it changes the course of the story.

Shot widescreen with some outstanding backdrop images of the African landscape, from that opening introduction of the falling meteorite to the satisfying conclusion, Black Panther never loses its grip for all of its 134 minutes. Aided by a mostly black cast who, no matter how a dedicated Marvel reader envisaged a live version of their beloved comic book heroes, perfectly embody their characters. Both Boseman’s Panther and his challenging opposite, Jordan’s Wakandan exile who went on to be an American black-ops soldier, make for fully-fledged, formidable enemies. There’s nothing for trolls in the comment section to whine about.

Other standouts include Letitia Wright in a breakout role as the panther’s sister, Shuri, the designer of the nation’s new technology. Played with child-like, excitable humor, Shuri is to her older brother what ‘Q’ is to James Bond, only funnier. “Great,” she exclaims as injured and unconscious CIA Agent Ross (Martin Freeman) is wheeled in to her operating room. “Another white boy for us to fix.”

Plus, as the unhinged South African gangster, Ulysses Klaue, Andy Serkiss is magnificently scary. Out of all the English speaking accents around the world, the South African is probably the most difficult one to perfect, but Serkiss gets it just right. You’d swear he was the real thing.

Only Martin Freeman’s CIA agent feels out of place. Perhaps best known as Watson to Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes, though just as famous as The Hobbit and the likable guy from Love Actually, here, Freeman doesn’t quite click. Part of the problem may be that he’s so good at what he’s previously done, he can’t help but carry the baggage of earlier work when cast as an American operative. It doesn’t necessarily spoil things, plus it’s probable that teenage audiences, for whom Black Panther is aimed, won’t notice a thing, but for older Anglophiles who know the actor as that nice character from the original version of the BBC TV series The Office, acceptance of a passable American accent might be a hurdle too high to climb. He never quite convinces.

MPAA Rating: PG-13    Length: 134 Minutes    Overall Rating: 8 (out of 10)

Posted in Film

The 15:17 to Paris – Film Review

Spencer. Go!

It’s the call you’ll hear at the moment when Spencer Stone leaps from his seat while riding the high-speed Thalys train on its way from Amsterdam to Paris. On August 21, 2015, a terrorist from Morocco, Ayoub El Khazzani, armed with an AKM assault rifle, a pistol, and a bottle of petrol, emerged from the cramped restroom on carriage 12 with the intent to open fire on the passengers. This is what followed.

A Frenchman, known only as Damien A, tackled the gunman the moment the terrorist emerged. He was knocked to the ground. Then an American-born Frenchman named Mark Moogalian intentionally stood in the way, and in a hand-to-hand struggle, grappled the assault rifle out of the gunman’s hands. It fell to the floor. Mooligan then turned to aid his wife, but was shot in the back by the gunman’s pistol. Mooligan fell to the floor and played dead. The gunman then reached down for the assault rifle and readied it to fire. That was the moment when US Airman First Class Spencer Stone leapt from his seat. With the aid of his two friends, a US Army National Guard soldier named Alek Skarlatos and California State University student, Anthony Sadler, plus the assistance of a British businessman, Chris Norman, the gunman was successfully stopped with a choke hold and beaten until unconscious.

The events on the train that day were covered extensively by newspapers around the world. It was a remarkable event, a breathtaking moment of selfless bravery and heroism. Three days later, four men, Norman, Sadler, Stone and Skarlatos were awarded France’s National Order of the Legion of Honor in a ceremony by President Francois Hollande. Once healed from his bullet wound, Mooligan was awarded the same honor the following month. Interestingly, Damien A, the first passenger to wrestle with the gunman, wished to remain anonymous for fear of potential reprisals against him.

What’s even more remarkable in director Clint Eastwood’s factual telling of those frightening minutes, as re-enacted in his new biographical thriller, The 15:17 to Paris, is that, with the exception of the terrorist, everyone involved – the three young Americans, all the passengers, even the cops who boarded the train to make the arrest – are played by the real people. When contacted, everyone is said to have wanted to be a part of the re-telling. What you’ll see is pretty much how it happened. Even though you’ll know most of these events before going in, the sequence is stunning, made all the more impressive when archival footage of President Hollande awarding Norman, Sadler, Stone and Skarlatos at a Legion of Honor ceremony at the Elysee Palace concludes the affair. You should leave shaken, but with an overwhelming sense of pride. But there’s a problem, and it’s with the seventy minutes or so of film that precedes the event.

Let me take you back and show you how it all happened,” narrates Sadler while all three are seen riding around town in a car, awarded, incidentally, to Stone by talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel after Stone’s first appearance on The Jimmy Kimmel Show. The narrative is told exclusively from the point of view of the three young Americans, with Spencer Stone’s story very much at the forefront. What we see is a tale of how they first met when they were troublesome schoolboys raised by single moms, later as students, then as part of the US military – Stone joined the Air Force, Skarlatos, the National Guard, while Sadler continued his education in Sacramento – and finally what happened when all three met up for a European vacation and boarded the train.

As kids, the three boys are portrayed as rambunctious and troublesome, often finding themselves in the principle’s office. When young Skarlatos (Bryce Gheisar) and Stone (Cole Eichenberger) are seen loitering in the hallway when they should be in class, they’re asked by a teacher for their Hall Pass. Stone tears a poster with a picture of himself running for school president off from a nearby bulletin board, shows it to the teacher, then rips it in half, declaring, “Here’s my Hall Pass.” The sequence is shot in a way appearing to suggest we should admire their rebellious nature, when, in reality, they’re just brats.

Worse, in a badly written scene when Stone and Skarlatos’ mothers (Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer) face the boy’s school teacher only to be told their boys have ADD, and medication might help, the teacher is portrayed as having such a discourteous, superior, know-it-all manner to her, she’s practically a cartoon villain. And later, when Greer is told that statistics prove that her problematic child could be heading for a downward spiral, she leaves the room, not wanting to hear the advice, stating, “My God is bigger than your statistics!” It’s a clap-trap moment in every sense of the theatrical phrase. Again, the way the scene is written and performed, Greer’s exit line has the feel of a cheap shot that’s supposed to get an audience applause, but it rings false.

The time when Stone, now older and looking for direction, leaves his Jamba Juice job and enlists in the military after a conversation with a Marine, things become considerably more interesting. But later, once all three friends reunite for a vacation throughout Europe, boredom overtakes. Even though the film has a short running time of only 94 minutes, the trip to Rome, the visit to the Coliseum, the selfies taken at every opportunity, and the lengthy nightclub sequence in Amsterdam, all feel like extensive padding where nothing of any particular consequence, and no story-telling conflicts, occur, made worse by the fact that as likable as the now twenty-something threesome appear to be (they’re clean; not a single cuss word between them) they’re acting is merely adequate. With the exception of Stone’s and Skararlatos’ military training, the film’s first two acts are surprisingly mediocre, plus Sadler’s backstory is practically a no-show.

But it’s the event on the train you’ll be waiting for, and when it happens, it comes at you as fast as the speeding carraiges upon which the young Americans are traveling. It’s an undeniably riveting sequence with a punch so viscerally powerful, where instinct rather than intellect takes control, you may even forget how disappointingly middling everything that happens before it really is.

MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 94 Minutes Overall rating: 6 (out of 10)

Posted in Film

Permission – Film Review

The area known as Cobble Hill is a small, 40 block neighborhood adjacent to New York’s Brooklyn Heights. It was once a part of South Brooklyn. Today, with its brown bricked rowhouses, its trendy new shops, its cafes and restaurants, and its young, upscale, professional residents, Cobble Hill has become quite the place to be, particularly at weekends for its food, entertainment, and its nightlife. It’s also the setting for the characters of the new romantic drama, Permission, written, co-produced, and directed by Brian Crano.

Anna (Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) have been together since their teens. Everything ever experienced – the first date, the first kiss – is something they’ve shared together. With her 30th birthday just around the corner, Anna proposes something to Will that will change everything. Inspired by something her gay brother, Hale (David Joseph Craig) suggests after a glass too many at a local restaurant, Anna tells Will, “I think you should sleep with other women.

When brother Hale first declares that it might be a good idea for the couple to sleep around, just to experience what it’s like to be with someone else before finally settling down with each other for the rest of their lives, the idea crashes on the restaurant table like a lead balloon. But once away from the eatery, the thought permeates at the back of Anna’s mind to the point where she starts questioning things. “Am I holding you back?” she asks Will. “Are you satisfied with me?”

And even though it was Anna’s suggestion that Will should sleep with someone else, it is Anna who successfully makes the first move outside of the relationship. At a nightclub, while dancing away to Bryan Ferry’s More Than This, Anna meets musician Dane (Francois Arnaud) and ends up leaving with him. “New experiences, right?” she later texts, adding, “Tell me to leave and I will.” But there’s no leaving. Anna spends the night, later telling Will that being with another guy was just fun, nothing more. But once away from Will, she tells a friend, “It was better than that.

Meanwhile, Anna’s brother and his partner, Reece (Morgan Spector) are having relationship issues of their own. Reece yearns for a child in the partnership and frequently checks on-line for adoption websites, but Hale is not interested.  The subject slowly forces a wedge between them.

There are the occasional interesting visual flurries director Crano incorporates, reflecting unspoken thoughts and feelings. When Will walks home for the first time without Anna, dejected and abandoned, he passes an equally abandoned car, its hood open, the engine on fire. And later, after Anna indulges in sex with a stranger against the wall at an art gallery, then wishes she hadn’t and could somehow turn back time, you’ll notice two establishing shots in rewind: traffic moves backwards, smoke is sucked down into a chimney instead of out.

The real unexpected development of Permission, however, is not so much Anna’s involvement with other men outside of her comfortable relationship with Will, or even Will’s no-strings-attached fling with wealthy Cobble Hill divorcee, Lydia (Gina Gershon). It’s regarding the parallel story between Hale and Reece. The subplot of a gay couple adopting a child and the rift it causes becomes considerably more absorbing than what is supposed to be the film’s central focus. When events cut away from Hale and Reece and return to Anna and Will, the film loses its rhythm; you want to know more about how things are going to evolve between the gay couple rather than concentrate on all the relationship soul searching and maturing of Anna and Will. The conclusion to their story is easy to predict. Ultimately, it’s Hale and Reece’s story that holds attention; it’s simply more interesting.

MPAA Rating: (Not rated)    Length: 96 Minutes    Overall Rating: 5 (out of 10)

Posted in Film