PERMISSION: A Compelling & Fresh Look At Love
Permission manages to explore the intricacies of open relationships in a non-judgemental way, portraying a realistic relationship as far from classic romcom tropes as you could imagine.
Permission, written and directed by Brian Crano in his second feature film, follows the lives of four thirty-somethings in NYC as they maneuver identity and love.
Anna (Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) have been together since they were teenagers, so their sexual experience lies only with one another. The life they have built is predictable, safe. He’s a carpenter, she’s a graduate student, and they are best friends. They have their routines and a sort of- mechanical sex life, clearly transparent when Anna says things like “good job” when Will finishes, but they are happy.
“Is It Like Fate, What We Have?”
On Anna’s 30th birthday and Will’s (almost) proposal, an idea is rooted in their brains. When they go out to dinner with Reece (Morgan Spector) and Hale (Joseph David Craig), Anna’s brother, their lack of previous partners becomes a topic of conversation. Plied with alcohol and shocked by this revelation Reece instills a seed of doubt. Is it enough? Did they miss out on something? The concept simmers, and eventually the two have a conversation about it.
They will give permission for one another to sleep with other people, but it won’t impact their relationship negatively. It’s a naive thought, but they make an agreement, believing this will only strengthen their decision to spend their lives together. It is apparent that the couple is comfortable and able to discuss things openly, and as a viewer this is a relief. Their authenticity sets the tone for the rest of the film.
While the main narrative is about Will and Anna’s sexual curiosities, another subplot surrounds Hale and Reece (who is also business partners with Will). Hale wants a child, but Reece doesn’t. Cues of their divergence are subtle at first, but as the film goes on and Hale is reminded of his yearning after he meets Glen (Jason Sudeikis) a father who brings his infant to the park, it becomes more obvious. This provides another example of change and growth within a person and the effect it has on a couple.
At one-point Anna asks Hale if he wants to be with Reece forever, for which he replies: “No, I would like to be with Reece for as long as we make each other happy.” This answer can be reflected on throughout the film. Are they happy?
“I Think You Should Sleep With Other Women. I Know How Much You Love Me And Always Will, So Why Shouldn’t You?”
Anna is the first to venture into another man’s arms, after her and Will go to the bar one night. It’s clear he’s apprehensive about this, yet continuously pushes her forward regardless. She meets Dane (Francois Arnaud) a musician, and they sleep together right away. After she arrives back home the couple talks amenably about the experience. Will’s insecurity is clear here, needing elaboration, and while we still see them continue together happily, a fissure is created.
Will’s first step out of monogamy comes in the form of Lydia (Gina Gershon), a divorcee who purchases one of Will’s tables. At first, he’s unable to fully commit to the affair, but eventually he unwinds more (with the help of some drugs) and can explore things he wasn’t able to with Anna.
Their encounters vary from those of Anna and Dane in a way that is heartbreaking, because we can see the main couple at the heart of this film evolving away from one another. For Will and Lydia it is more experimental, with less substance. Meanwhile, Dane (the unabashed romantic), seems to be falling in love with Anna. She is reluctant, but it is apparent their excursions have an impact.
“Just Um, One Foot In Front Of Another.”
As they are working out their feelings they each sleep with another, briefly. Anna as a way of diluting her and Dane’s connection and Will to forget that Anna has one with someone else. There are a lot of questions here that most people will consider at some point. Is monogamy realistic? These couples love one another, but is it enough? What if they want different things? What if these individuals have become someone else- someone different than they are together?
The cast is great; Francois Arnaud and Gina Gershon each bring different components to the movie. As Lydia, Gershon is lively, an interesting counter to Will. Arnaud’s Dane is pure, he’s unaware of the complication and is just a man falling in love with a woman. Morgan Spector and Joseph David Craig are both magnetic. Each are convincingly attuned to one another, which makes for a relaxed rapport.
Stevens gives a vulnerable performance, attentive and hopeful, even when it is clear his character is fraught. Hall is also powerful, as Anna fights against herself, unsure of what she truly wants. Both actors are terrifically adaptable, having done a variety of roles over the years, but Permission gives them characters that are relatable.
What’s great about Permission is its departure from the usual, easy route. There isn’t an overabundance of comedy, but that is a strength here. From the beginning there is a certainty that things will change, but the how makes for a winning tale. While there are several stimulating characters I believe this is Anna’s story and the female perspective was uplifting.
I believe the film could have added more, filling some storyline’s or scenes, but the story is significant even without it. New York City is another character here in itself, and I would have enjoyed additional sequences of the beautiful backdrop.
Also written by Brian Crano, the dialogue captures the natural drama that couples face. The plot device of sleeping with other people has been done before, but not in such a smart and relevant way.
Final Thoughts: Permission
Permission creates a compelling case study of adult relationships. With the direction of Crano he gives us a romantic drama that provides us with a heavy dose of romance, but also focuses on its decline. While funny at times, especially in snippets of chats between Anna/ Hale and Reece/Will, I prefer the expressive moments.
While the concept is hardly new, Permission enters its subject gently, using the main plot as an opening to several subjects regarding intimacy and commitment. This, along with its desire to delve more into the dynamics of a relationship rather than traditional rom-com tropes makes it stand out.
What was your take on Permission? Do you agree? Tell us!
Permission will be released in theaters in the US on February 9th. For international release dates click here.
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