Synopsis: Anna (Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens), were each other’s first every-things: first kiss, first love, first and only relationship. Now, 10 years in, at Anna’s 30th birthday party, as Will is about to propose, the couple’s best friend makes a drunken toast, suggesting that they should sleep around before their inevitable marriage. The joke lands like a lead balloon, but the thought lingers until Anna proposes that they try opening their relationship–as a sexual experiment. Together, they venture out of the purely monogamous boundaries of their relationship and, along the way, evolve.
Permission is a serious look into relationships masked as a “rom-com”. It has all the ingredients for a funny, sparkling comedy on how difficult it is to keep a relationship feeling easy and interesting: gorgeous cast, humorous situations, and quick-witted writing. Yet, beneath that veil lies a truth filled with rawness and realness; relationships are hard.
Now, I am not saying anything new in that prior statement, but Permission is showing us something new when it comes to it. While many film relationships discuss how couples end because of finances, genuine incompatibility, or career/ dream changes; not many show how powerful simple fear and boredom can be in rupturing love. It is the idea that there is someone better out there for you, especially when the one you have is not satisfying you, that can end a couple. Permission asks whether it should?
If you are questioning whether there is someone better for you than your partner, does that make you wrong in asking or make him/ her the wrong answer for you? At first, Anna (Rebecca Hall) and Will (Dan Stevens) are the perfect, cutest couple, which is why when they decide to open their relationship, I had a heart-attack. You ship them immediately because Hall and Stevens have such a casual chemistry, and show how graceful it is when you “fit” with someone. Both Anna and Will are incredibly sweet and almost naive when it comes to their bond because it is the only one they have known. Yet, the cracks begin to show as their openness to other sexual partners leads to a sincere questioning over whether they are each other’s emotional companions.
There is always a valid argument that sex and feelings inevitably become tied, and Permission displays that argument in full. What was supposed to be a “fun”, sexual exploration becomes a massive threat to Anna and Will’s sentimental union. Francois Arnaud as Dane is smoldering, vulnerable, has that typical “bad boy”/ “tortured artist” charm that makes Anna catch feelings for her “sexual experiment”. Meanwhile, Will’s affair with Gina Gershon’s Lydia seems to thrive off of their mutual feelings of loneliness and abandonment. The point being while Anna and Will did not expect to feel for their sexual flings, they also did not plan for their flings to feel anything back.
While you laugh with Permission, there are undercurrents of tragedy to this tale. When we think “tragedy”, we think of something catastrophic, but there are quiet, subtle tragedies that happen everyday like, the loss of a relationship. Yet, even gaining one can feel tragic as seen with David Joseph Craig’s Hale and Morgan Spector’s Reece growing distance. While the two give the film some of its wittiest laughs, their characters’ differences on whether to expand their family is highly relatable. More importantly, it adds to the film’s analysis on how couple’s grow apart.
Permission is an excellent film, and guts you with how intimate it feels in displaying the beginnings and ends of “coupledom”. Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens can add another film that shows they are exceptional actors. Moreover, Brian Crano can say he has directed and written an honest film on love. What a feat! Permission comes out in theaters on February 9.