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Freebie, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Not bad, but it demands a bit of a pass from the audience."
3 stars

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2010: "The Freebie" is one of those DIY-style movies (it's too well-spoken and clean-looking to be referred to as "mumblecore") where no writing credits appears; the cast is working from producer/director/star Katie Aselton's outline. Everyone's got their own process, I guess, but a screenplay might have avoided the awkward situation where an improvised scene has a supporting character saying "this is a stupid idea" and the film having no actual response for that.

The stupid idea in question is married couple Annie (Aselton) and Darren (Dax Shepard) deciding to give each other one night to go out and have sex with another man/woman. They are, you see, generally happy, love spending time together, and still find each other attractive; they just haven't made love in months. This, they figure, will put some spark and excitement back into their marriage.

It is obviously a stupid idea. The ways in which it can go wrong are numerous and immediately obvious to anyone with half a brain, and even if you buy that these characters have to do something to spice things up, one would think that they'd try things that involve them actually sleeping with each other first. But, no, the outline apparently runs (1) awkward dinner conversation (2) talk about having one night with other people (3) the big night (4) afterward, and the parts of the story that would really tie things together were never really puzzled out.

In a way, it's hard to blame Aselton and company for doing things this way; they've had some success making movies with this system and it certainly allows them to play to focus on what they, as actors, do best. And make no mistake, Aselton and Shepard are both strong here. Both play characters who are intelligent, pleasant, funny individuals; the audience feels an immediate level of comfort with them, and not just singly, but as a couple. It's fun to watch them converse; not only do they give good talk (not realistic banalities, but witty without seeming mannered), but in how, as the big night approaches, there's an increasing sense of nervousness. It's not really "I'm not going to be the one to suggest dropping this, but I'm going to give you a chance", but a couple of people who think they're clever enough to avoid the pitfalls trying to nail down the ways it can go wrong. It's not just them, either; there's not a weak link in the cast, with Frankie Shaw and Ross Partridge stepping up nicely when they need to.

Though I think that a screenplay would have done quite a bit to solidify the film, that shouldn't diminish how well Aselton and company do as a whole. The cinematography is adequate; the San Francisco locations look nice. And Aselton's storytelling skills are actually pretty strong; she and editor Nat Sanders do a nice job of cutting scenes together so that, though they are out of chronological order, they still show us a story moving forward. And the end is strong, both in how well it's acted (based on his previous work, a lot of folks will be surprised Dax Shepard has the last few scenes in him), and the post-film discussions the last conversation leads to.

Unfortunately, to get to that ending, one does have to push past some earlier stupidity. And while people routinely do that for studio extravaganzas, indie films like this sell themselves on characterization, and if it's not convincing early, then all the film's hard work and skill will only bring it up to average.

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originally posted: 05/03/10 05:07:09
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Sundance Film Festival For more in the 2010 Sundance Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2010 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Independent Film Festival Boston 2010 For more in the Independent Film Festival Boston 2010 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Seattle International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival series, click here.

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  DVD: 11-Jan-2011


  DVD: 11-Jan-2011

Directed by
  Katie Aselton

Written by
  Katie Aselton

  Dax Shepard
  Katie Aselton

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