Permission gets too cute with its hall pass

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      Starring Rebecca Hall. Rated 14A

      What if your long-term relationship had a do-over button? That’s the concept of this indie rom-com, which—like most promises made in haste and on the cheap—doesn’t quite deliver in the end.

      Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens play Anna and Will, college sweethearts now hitting 30 without ever having “been with” anyone else. Both Brits go Yank in the accent department, and also seem to have left their personalities on the other side of the Atlantic. Ensconced in their comfortable Brooklyn flat, and just about to move into the brownstone that Will is renovating, they are inarticulate nebbishes who are particularly tongue-tied in the bedroom, where things are not exactly 50 shades of great.

      Will’s just about to propose marriage at one of many hipster spots visited (short beards are now the order of the day) when his best friend and custom-carpentry business partner, Reece (Morgan Spector), tipsily points out that the twosome are still virginal with everyone but each other. That’s enough to get them wondering if they shouldn’t give the ol’ dating scene one last shot—without breaking up. You know, to be sure!

      Meanwhile, Reece has his own probs with partner Hale (David Joseph Craig), who’s also Anna’s brother. He wants to adopt a baby at the expense of everything else, including surprises and witty dialogue. Writer-director Brian Crano, who directed Hall in his little-seen A Bag of Hammers, is Craig’s real-life partner, while Hall is actually married to Spector. This incestuous arrangement would seem to support transgressive elements in Permission. But a dogged sense of narrative symmetry and budget limitations prove confining in a notably underpopulated New York tale that only concerns young, attractive white people abiding in exposed-brick lofts.

      Anyway, the eros level stays low with characters who bumble around and offer so many apologies you might think they’re Canadian. In fact, actual Quebecker François Arnaud (I Killed My Mother) makes an impression as a soulful musician who connects with Anna’s creative side. And Gina Gershon gives the tale a needed jolt of acting chops as a rich, older woman who lends Will a temporary thrill. His hair-trigger jackrabbit “technique” is raised but never really addressed, even by Mrs. Robinson. Anna stays curiously unchanged as well.

      An indication of Crano’s Etch-A-Sketch scripting comes when we’re told that Anna is working on a master’s degree in feminist studies. Hmm. We don’t really get to see what her thesis is about, she has zero female friends, and on the evidence here she’s never given one thought to the relationship dynamics at play in, well, this movie.

      Jason Sudeikis has a small role as a sleep-deprived new dad. He previously starred in Hall Pass, a Farrelly-brothers comedy built on the same subject. It didn’t pretend to be about anything more.