When a ‘do is a don’t

Main Cast: Patricia Arquette, Rainn Wilson

Director: Colette Burson

Nearly my entire exposure to Rainn Wilson is through his character of Dwight Shrute on the American version of The Office. The other acting roles I’ve seen him do have all had just a hint of Dwight. Is that because filmmakers write Dwight-like characters for him? Or does he bring a little Dwight everywhere he goes? We may never know. But he definitely brings the Dwight – in a good way – to his Dad role in Permanent, a really quirky little indie coming-of-age film set in the early 1980s.

Aurelie (Kira McLean), daughter of Jeanne (Patricia Arquette) and Jim (Rainn Wilson) has moved to a small Virginia town where her father will be attending college. This is a chance at a new career for him, while Jeanne supports the family as a waitress. Aurelie really, really wants to fit in with the other girls she sees around town and begs her parents to allow her to get a permanent so she can rock some good old Farrah hair. Now we all know that this is not going to go well, because it’s 2018 and we know that permanents never caused anything but agony. But Aurelie will not be deterred, and ends up having her curls done at a beauty school. Yikes.

In addition to Aurelie’s fixation on her new perm (I would fixate too, so would you), we also get Jim fixating on his hair piece. It’s a family filled with discomfort about their hair. That discomfort sort of symbolizes their discomfort with a lot of things – school, marriage, new jobs, college as a middle aged person. There’s a lot happening with this family. Permanent is essentially a coming of age dysfunctional family dramedy with a ton of bad hair. And it’s weird. But also sort of fun.

Aurelie’s story is the most predictable. As the new girl with the bad perm, she is destined to have a rough time. She goes through some fairly movie-typical growing up while her parents do things, well, a little differently. McLean is good in the role; smart and feisty and upbeat, she’s not going to give in to the haters.

Jeanne is a complainer of the highest order. And maybe she has every right. Uncomfortable in her new role as breadwinner, she wants a lot of support from her family. But she doesn’t ask for it in particularly constructive ways. Arquette is very good in the role. She isn’t the slightest bit appealing, she never tries to change that, and it looks like she’s having a blast with the character.

Jim is a bit of an enigma. He has to take swimming at the small college he’s attending in order to maintain his scholarship and hopefully go to medical school. He had a career in the Air Force, but this is his dream and he’s determined to make it work. He really doesn’t want to swim though, and has a lot of trouble being open with his wife. Grown men can be just as insecure as teenage girls. Wilson does well with the role, bringing in just enough Dwight to make his character strange and interesting without going too far overboard into full Shrute. One should never go full Shrute outside The Office.

Overall, Permanent is a really oddball little family dramedy. It works as an absurd period piece, as a coming of age comedy, and as a weird look at a weird set of family dynamics. It isn’t brilliant, but I definitely found more than a handful of laughs and admired the cast for diving into these characters without reservation and enjoying the ride. It’s worth a watch if you like any of the actors or are fond of the occasional offbeat comedy about an offbeat family.

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