Plot: Jim (Rainn Wilson) was an air steward at a military base, but he has moved his family as he pursues a new career in medicine. His wife Jeanne (Patricia Arquette) is not thrilled with this turn of events, as life on the base was good and the family had a nice home and a good income. Now the family struggles with finances and in order to make ends meet, Jeanne has taken a waitress position. As if the other issues weren’t enough, the couple has intimacy concerns and Jeanne feels neglected, while Jim just wants to be left alone. To help her get a fresh start at her new school, their daughter Aurelie (Kira McLean) wants to get a permanent, but the trip to the cosmetology school leads to a less than ideal hairstyle. As all three struggle to find their places in this new lifestyle, can they stick together or will the new pressures pull them apart?
Entertainment Value: As frequent readers know, I have a soft spot for oddballs and weirdos, so while Permanent is a rather basic family driven comedy, I had fun with the offbeat personalities involved. The narrative is a familiar one, as a family uproots and starts over, which has everyone trying to make the best of the new situation and that isn’t a smooth process. There’s some relationship drama, midlife crisis elements, and even a coming of age thread tucked into Permanent, so the focus is a little split, but it works well enough. The multi-thread narrative helps keep the pace brisk, as we move back and forth between the various stories and while some might not like that style, I think it serves a purpose here. The individual stories are rather thin, but they combine to form a larger arc, one that ties all of the family’s personal issues together, so in that sense, the fractured approach works. I wish the humor was more consistent, as the real entertainment comes from the characters, which means there is some solid potential in this material. But the material is rather thin and the movie is saved by the cast, who make the most of the passable script.
The cast is indeed the real draw here, especially our lead, Rainn Wilson and Patricia Arquette. This is an example of a movie that has interesting characters and a game cast to inhabit those characters, but a mediocre script. Wilson is dialed back here, but still has that quirkiness he is known for and brings a lot to the movie. His quiet, but odd presence is humorous even in serious moments, which is fun. Arquette steals the show however, as the loud, pent up wife who is shrill and abrasive, but always amps up any interaction she has with others. I love the scenes between Arquette and Wilson, as their personas are so different and the banter is terrific. Kira McLean is fun at times, but the material simply doesn’t give her a lot of times to shine. I wish the writing was more ambitious, as these characters are a lot of fun and the cast seems open to going for broke, but the script just comes off as flat, outside of some passable dialogue. I wanted to like Permanent and the cast does make the movie a lot better than it should be, but it still feels like a lot of potential was left on the table.