'Permission' Flips The Script On Gender Roles In Relationships

by Rachel Simon
Tribeca Film Festival

In movies about romantic relationships between men and women, it's more often than not the male lead who's the cause of all the problems. It may not be fair, or necessarily accurate, but in the fictional big screen world, men are often the ones much more afraid of commitment and prone to having wandering eyes. Yet the new film Permission flips that narrative, by having both members of its central duo, a couple who've been together for years, decide to pursue an open relationship — and to have the woman, played by Rebecca Hall, be the one who's more inclined to leave monogamy behind for good.

"Often in these films, in this sort of style, it's the guy who is like, 'I won't sleep around,' and we all kind of yawn — we've seen that story 100 times before," says Hall, speaking alongside co-star Dan Stevens via phone. "So we were very keen to try and not make that version of it."

In Permission, which premiered at this year's Tribeca Film Festival, Hall and Stevens play Anna and Will, a couple who've been together since their teens and are on the brink of engagement when they decide to start sleeping with other people, just to see what they've been missing. Real-life friends who've known each other for years, the actors found it easy to slip into the roles of people who've spent the "majority of their adult lives together," says Hall. For her, however, playing her character came with a specific challenge. Although both Anna and Will decide to forgo monogamy, it's Anna who is most inclined to make their relationship open, a welcome change from the norm in film — and, Hall says, often in real life, too.

Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"Nobody in today's society wants to say anything, so if you're in a reasonably OK relationship, you should just stick it out. And for a woman, it's, 'I ought to get married, I ought to do it this way, and everything will be fine. I'm not going to rock the boat or be difficult in any way,'" she explains.

Permission challenges this idea, but it does so without making Anna a villain in the story or making her relationship with Will one-dimensional. Instead, both characters come off as completely human, flawed and complicated people that will feel relatable to viewers dealing with issues in their own long-term romances. "[The movie] takes a slightly more grown-up attitude to these kinds of questions around relationships," explains Stevens. "There isn't this black and white in these situations."

That might seem obvious, but too few movies about romance actually share that belief, instead choosing to paint relationships as either blissfully easy or incurably complicated. Thankfully, Permission understands that there's an in-between, and doesn't let either its male or female lead off the hook when it comes to dealing with their problems.