Permission: a sexy rom-com with tasty twists - Drew Rowsome - Moving Pictures - MyGayToronto

Permission: a sexy rom-com with tasty twists

REVIEW by Drew Rowsome

10 February 2018

Permission is an amiable fusion between a romantic comedy and a sex comedy. Gorgeously shot (and populated with gorgeous male flesh) Permission follows the misadventures of a young heterosexual couple who have been together since high school. Will has been planning to propose but when Anna's gay brother's partner, Reece, learns over dinner that Will and Anna's grand total of sexual experiences are with each other, he questions their future. And of course, because the gays are always wise, Will and Anna come to the same conclusion and decide to open their relationship sexually to answer Reece's question about the quality of their sex life, "Compared to what?"

The trajectory is familiar: Will is eager, Anna is reluctant, but their first trip to a single's bar nets Dane, a sensitive singer-songwriter who is also built and hung. Will gets his opportunity with Lydia who, because she is played by Gina Gershon, is too much for any mere mortal. The couple weigh their issues, fall in and out of beds, explore the difference between love and sex and evaluate whether commitment is a comfort or a cage. It is all very charming, set in a fantasy muted-neon New York that inspires envy, and pushes the rom-com envelope in an enticingly sexy way.

Anna's brother is also her BFF and his partner is Will's college roommate. So they both get wise and unwise advice from a gay bestie. But the gay couple have issues of their own, the brother wants a baby and Reece doesn't. This inversion of stereotypes is Permission's best idea and it is done so subtly and casually that it is, if unbalanced in favour of the hets, delightful. And the gay couple actually get to have sex on screen and be as close to three-dimensional as a romantic comedy allows. 

Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens do fine work as Anna and Will. The hesitations and vulnerabilities they are trying to mask are all realistic and frequently touching. Stevens squirms with sexual insecurity quite comically and has a puppy dog sexiness that only misses the mark when one is reminded that this is a quintessential Ben Stiller role. But it is the paramours that elevate Permission. When the delicious Raul Castillo is utilized as a one-night stand in a mere cameo, the bar is set very high.

Francois Arnaud as Anna's fling that risks becoming more, is impossibly handsome and considerate. He also gets naked a lot and is as dream-like a pick-up as anyone could imagine. Anna's brother, David Joseph Craig, flirts with a bear with a baby but it is the baby he covets. And that is unrealistic as Morgan Spector as Reece is sex personified, a hairy-chested (alas unfortunate tattoos) tall, dark and handsome specimen of a man who makes it hard to believe that Craig doesn't just toss the tyke. It's always a treat when men are the sex objects and Permission could be half as good as it is and still be totally watchable.

But director/writer Brian Cano has one more secret weapon. Where has Gina Gershon been? Her part in Permission - the adventurous if flaky divorcee with a settlement that allows her to indulge her whims - is small but upstages all. Gershon, with those pouty lips and husky voice, smoulders effortlessly while revealing a touching fragility. She is a free spirit adrift, gets one flawless double take, and even pulls off an exit gag involving yet another naked man and her indelible Showgirls attitude. She is a revelation, a sex symbol/movie star who is also Streepian.

Though Permission is bleak/realistic about relationships and not quite as daring as it wants to appear, it is amiable and (how many times have I used this word?) charming. Treading dangerously close to parodying rom-coms, Permission also has a sweet humanity in the characters as they struggle with love, lust and sex, and glides along so smoothly that one doesn't have time to reflect on the mundanity of more middle-class angst. Permission is a vanilla sex comedy, but then, as one of the themes of Permission states, vanilla can be quite tasty when it's served properly.