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Freebie, The
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by brianorndorf

"Dax Shepard is finally being paid to ramble"
4 stars

The strain of love and marriage goes mumblecore in Katie Aselton’s ‘The Freebie,” which takes a largely improvised peek at the struggle of fidelity. Though cursed with a clichéd shaky HD presentation, Aselton (who’s married to co-producer/mumblecore maestro Mark Duplass) proves herself to be a formidable filmmaker with a keen eye for shame, making the picture something of a surprise, especially with its sense of marital realism.

Annie (Katie Aselton) and Darren (Dax Shepard) are a loving married couple stuck in a serious sexual rut. Despite their clear chemistry and fluid sense of communication, the two can’t jumpstart their bedroom antics, leading Darren to suggest something drastic to reawaken their libidos. For one night only, Annie and Darren agree to take off and find a “freebie” sexual encounter to help refresh their passions, sticking to a rule that no information about the tryst will be shared between the couple thereafter. Of course, as the event commences, the pair find themselves conflicted when faced with a real opportunity to cheat, wrecking their once stable union.

“The Freebie” isn’t an original idea, and the film has all the hallmarks of a heavily workshopped Sundance story that made the miracle leap to film. With low-tech cameras, wandering framing, improvised dialogue, and a backdrop of Los Angeles hipsterdom, “The Freebie” doesn’t immediately establish itself as a film worth the viewing effort. The surface details of the picture promise something hackneyed and insufferable. Thankfully, Aselton doesn’t go down without a fight.

Sticking to a deceptively simple plot for a blessedly appropriate runtime (75 minutes), the filmmaker captures the caution and overt sensitivity of marriage, depicting Annie and Darren as an affectionate couple able to discuss matters of the heart without fear of humiliation. The natural chemistry between Shepard and Aselton helps to summon a credible bond, but the subtle instances of behavior and routine make the picture feel lived-in, even with a cast often far too fixated on delivering eloquent verbal diarrhea. Annie and Darren appear like a genuine married couple looking to clear a common relationship roadblock with a radical idea, making the concept of the film less about melodrama and more about legitimate taboo curiosity.

Aselton keeps matters raw and stimulating, especially hesitant during the seduction sequences, pitting the twosome in situations where they could readily follow through on their mischievous dare. The performances reflect the trepidation and curiosity at hand, with Aselton imparting a palpable nervousness as Annie hits a local bar to bait her hook, while Darren finds eye-opening mojo with a willing barista. The moviemaking miracle is found in Shepard’s performance, which is largely dramatic and therefore palatable. He summons interesting paranoia and deflection, showing vulnerability for the first time in his unlikely career. Bravo to Aselton for pulling anything of note out of this tedious actor.

Obviously, the story ends up in a confessional standoff, pitting the couple against each other as the truth of their solo adventures threatens to be revealed. Aselton offers answers, but perhaps not the truth, leaving “The Freebie” in an interesting position of debate, exploring the shattered fragments of intimacy with a pleasing ambiguity, removing the pretentious urges of the piece to dissect the potentially horrifying reality.

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originally posted: 01/08/11 01:35:20
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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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