Thursday, September 16, 2010

Something for nothing? You know better - and so does Katie Aselton's THE FREEBIE

Modern love: Oy! Still, it's probably not much worse than was ancient love: just more options -- and more ways to screw things up. Though sometimes one does wonder. It appears that Katie Aselton (shown below) has been wondering, too, because she tackles this subject in the new film -- her first -- THE FREEBIE, which she directed and wrote and in which she also stars. Her co-star is Dax Shepard, seen here in a role that ought to bring additional luster to his steadily improving career (Zathura to Idiocracy, Baby Mama to Parenthood).

Now, it isn't as though we film-goers are not inundated yearly with movies about modern romance. There are usually -- what? --  30 to 40 or more of these opening within any 12-month period. Three months ago, when TrustMovies caught a screening of The Freebie, he had recently seen two other films dealing with a similar modern-romance subject (infidelity and its consequences) in not all that different a manner: Breaking Upward, the main claim to fame for which seemed to be that it had been made in New York City on a half-shoestring budget, and Sorry, Thanks, an On-Demand, San Francisco mumblecore-ish movie of some interest.  Ms Aselton's film is better than both. (Note: I neglected earlier to credit my compatriot Avi Offer at NYC Movie Guru for pointing out the resemblance to Breaking Upward. So, thanks, Avi.)

The Freebie is indeed a bit mumblecore (Aselton's acting resume includes The Puffy Chair and the Duplasses' Cyrus, as well as the non-m'core Easier With Practice), but you might call this "mumblecore speaking up a bit."  The screenplay is definitely more "written": tightly focused and less rambling and dithering than are some of the m'core variety. In the film we meet Annie and Darren (Aselton and Shepard, shown above) whose seven-year marriage (itch time, folks!) has grown a bit stale, at least sexually.  They're still quite attractive and alert, but they'd rather play scrabble and are relieved when one or the other opts out of lovemaking.

In the course of this 80-minute movie, they broach the subject of a one-time, no-consequences, fling elsewhere; debate the idea with each other and their friends (some of whom prove considerably wiser than they); and then do it (or not) -- with the bartender (Ross Partridge, above) and the coffee girl (Frankie Shaw, below) -- after which they face the results.  Aselton keeps her camera close in, registering the smallest changes in thought and mood, and she, Shepard and the rest of her cast are always on-point. This is a very intimate film in all meanings of the word, and so any false moves will show -- and badly.  They don't, which is to everyone's credit. The film is never embarrassing -- no matter how personal, sexual or charged events become -- because, when each moment appears truthful, there's never that 'icky' feeling that results from eaves-dropping on something that should be real but instead seems fake.

For the older generation like me, there will of course be a certain been-there-done-that sense. Most of us will have experienced infidelity a few, maybe many, times (giving it, getting it, probably both -- not to mention countless movies on this subject), so we've learned things that Annie and Darren as yet have not. Truth-telling is fine and all that -- provided you know why you want to tell that truth and that you're certain that your partner (if you really care about him or her) will be able to tolerate it.

The Freebie is hardly an action movie; even the sex is not all that terribly "hot."  But it -- and most else in the film --  is handled intelligently, sometimes comically, with a genuine exploration of the relationship, the twosome's responsibility to each other and what this means.  Aselton wrestles with all this, and viewers will profit from wrestling (and laughing, sometimes cringing) along with her.

The movie, via Phase 4 Films opens this Friday, September 17, in New York City at the Angelika Film Center, in Los Angeles on October 1 at the NuArt Theater and then perhaps onwards to a limited, nationwide release.

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