Review: ‘Permission’ Puts Dan Stevens and Rebecca Hall on the Market

Posted February 8, 2018 7:24 p.m. EST

Important safety tip: While drinking, do not propose a drastic relationship overhaul to your friends, especially if your advice sounds suspiciously like a screenplay pitch. In “Permission,” a birthday celebration turns awkward when Reece (Morgan Spector) mentions an elephant in the room: Anna (Rebecca Hall), who is turning 30, and Will (Dan Stevens) have only ever gone out with each other. They’re likely to marry, and they’re clearly a perfect, consistent couple — but aren’t they the least bit curious about what sex with other people is like?

Despite Reece’s apology the next day, the idea sticks, and once agreed to, the swinging experiment pays off with astonishing speed. The roulette wheel of New York City dating is no problem for Will and Anna, even with a lack of practice. On the couple’s first night out, Anna, a music historian whose thesis draft has the mind-melting title “Female Composers + Feminism – Matriarchal Pedagogy = Feminist Composers” meets the composer-rocker of her dreams, Dane (François Arnaud). Soon after, Will responds to the flirtations of a divorcée, Lydia (Gina Gershon), who walks into his store, where he sells, in what one hopes is unintentional Freudianism, wood furniture.

“Permission” actually offers a double dose of couples therapy, according nearly equal screen time to Reece and his relationship with Hale (David Joseph Craig), Anna’s brother, who desperately wants a baby. The movie raises questions about how the pairs choose to talk or not talk to each other, even while inviting inadvertent musing on how all the characters can afford such nice apartments. There’s also an intriguing musical-chairs aspect to the casting: Hall is in fact married to Spector, while Craig is married to the film’s writer and director, Brian Crano. It’s easy to envision “Permission” reconceived as a gimmick-driven off-Broadway play in which the generally very good leads swap roles every week.

Hall, though, is the standout, selling Anna’s indecision even through some of the script’s dubious patches. (It’s bad enough that Dane is such a thinly conceived Prince Charming; Will’s epiphanic drug trip with Lydia is an even worse cliché.) And it should be said that “Permission” really shows its teeth in the homestretch. If unwise remarks at a dinner can cast a pall over a long-standing relationship, then a great ending can redeem and even force reconsideration of an otherwise middling film.


Not rated.

Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes.