Thinking that someone else’s relationship is progressing “too quickly” is a subjective complaint. All relationships take steps at different paces, and the tricky waltz of love is best evaluated by the parties involved. Unless the dating lives are cinematic, in which case outside criticism is the healthiest of activities! Be careful, though: examining the couples of “Permission” might give you whiplash.
“Permission” is a romantic comedy-drama from writer/director Brian Crano, a filmmaker who’s here to prove that indie films can have ludicrous plots, too. It opens on two couples having dinner: Anna and Will, who have been sweethearts since they were young; and Anna’s brother Hale and his partner Reece, who seem just as perfect a pair. The double tête-à-tête devolves when Reece launches into an unsolicited rant: Anna and Will have only ever slept with each other—can they truly love one another if they don’t know what it’s like to have sex with anyone else?
Reece’s speech is initially dismissed, but “Permission” grabs the concept and runs with it. The film’s pacing flies by like a screenplay outline on Ritalin. The movie’s central idea is presented in its first minutes, and just a few minutes later, Anna and Will are laying down rules for sleeping with other people. This hasty introduction lays the seeds for not knowing the characters well enough; the rapid escalation of the story’s branches leaves us no time to care about them by the end.
The internal logic of “Permission” breaks apart like many things do at the speed of sound. The most ardent critic of Anna and Will’s open relationship is inexplicably Reece, the one who gave them the idea in the first place. The first rule of Anna and Will’s pact is “sex only”, concerning liaisons with new partners—any filmmaker that valued character development would work up to crossing that line, but the rule is broken immediately. The lack of careful buildup makes the conflicts exponentially hard to believe and the conclusions contrived.
Not to mention cruel. “Permission” crashes into a miserable and mean-spirited ending. Two times over, it presents the inability to compromise within a relationship as an act of brazen courage. This is not a movie to take your significant other to, unless it’s the strategic first move of a breakup.
While the film’s internal logic is broken, its internal universe is sound. The narrative balances between Anna and Will’s misadventures and Reece and Hale’s debate over having a baby. Due to the familial link between the two couples, the plots intersect in interesting ways—until they end up having nothing to do with one another.
The performances that round out these duos are far and away the film’s greatest asset. Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens exude convincing body language: watching them interact is like being a fly on the wall of a very romantic room. Morgan Spector (who is married to Rebecca Hall) and David Joseph Craig (who is married to the director) betray their real-life bonds to establish a strong sense of fictional connection. Jason Sudeikis shows up for an affecting bit part too.
Crano’s camera frames sex and nudity with no semblance of male gaze or judgment, which is surprisingly refreshing even in our contemporary era. “Permission” is pleasantly progressive about matters of modern love, and Crano’s stylistic touches promise potential—if these positives belonged to a properly plotted film, perhaps this would be a worthy Valentine’s Day movie. Alas, it’s a heartbreaker.