Sign up for our free newsletter
There’s a reason you don’t usually hear stand-ups ask the audience, “So, how many of you beat your spouses?” With Your Permission, though, tries to wrest a comedy from a domestic-abuse storyline, and only partly succeeds. The film, directed by Danish actress Paprika Steen and scripted by Anders Thomas Jensen, who wrote last year’s terrific Red Road and Oscar-nominated After the Wedding, front-loads its funny when we’re introduced to Jan (Lars Brygmann), a ridiculously by-the-rules ferry manager who calls the cops on customers who dare eat off someone else’s buffet plate and makes deadpan excuses for the constant bruises on his face. Jan is amusing, as are the two thugs-turned-softies (Rasmus Bjerg and Nikolaj Kopernikus) with whom he mistakenly attends therapy sessions for abusers. In fact, Jan’s the one getting knocked around, and it’s when we see his home life that the laughs end: Jan’s wife, Bente (Sidse Babett Knudsen), is a miserable tornado of a woman who initially seems like the crazy, controlling one. But as the story reveals the source of unhappiness in their marriage—involving the couple’s discarded dreams of opera careers—your sympathies make a hard and unpleasant turn. The cast members, particularly Knudsen, give lively, entertaining performances, and the coda is touching. But it’s not quite enough to wash away the film’s unexpectedly bitter center.