Sunday, May 19, 2013

Jay Gammill/Jim Beggarly's FREE SAMPLES: a nifty little indie with smarts, charm & sass

Could it really be seven years since TrustMovies first noticed actress Jess Weixler in that model indie film, The Big Bad Swim? Hardly seems possible. At the time, and after seeing her again in movies such as Teeth, Peter and Vandy and Alexander the Last, I expected this lovely and quite talented actress to soon have a role to match her skill that would put her on the movie map for good. Finally, in FREE SAMPLES, she gets that role. The movie's good, too. And it has a fine and fairly well-known supporting cast. But will anybody bother to see this smart little indie in these days of two-dozen-a-week theatrical openings in Manhattan and/or L.A., while sneaking onto VOD a week prior? Doubtful. But we can hope.

Written by Jim Beggarly and directed by Jay Gammill, shown at right (this is the first full-lengther for both men), Free Samples proves unusually specific in every way -- from its location to its situation to its many characters. You know where you are in this film, whom you're with, and why you (and they) are there in the first place. With all this set up so firmly, the movie then frees us and its actors to concentrate on behavior above all else. And the behavior here is such fun! Ms Weixler plays a young woman who has recently dropped out of law school at Stanford and moved to L.A., where she's tending bar part-time, as well as taking a (mutual) leave of absence from her boyfriend/fiance.

Weixler's Jillian, shown above, is a character in a generally foul mood throughout most of the movie. This is tricky territory, but fortunately the actress understands how to manage it so that her annoyance is never contagious. Weixler uses her innate intelligence and just-somewhat-buried charm to keep us rooting for Jillian and enjoying her foul mood and the various ways she takes this out on her customers (who are sometimes not so nice themselves) at the ice cream truck from which she must disperse free samples on this particular day.

How Jillian is roped into this "job" by her best friend (nicely played by Halley Feiffer, above right) shows her to be, at heart, a good friend, and how she deals with some of the other folk in her current life indicates this, as well.

Jason Ritter, below, plays her musician pal who exhibits an early need for Flomax, as well as an unusual desire to serve ice cream out of the truck, below, while missing some important attire.

Again, the behavior all along the way and from the entire cast is first-rate: quirky, funny, never pushed and consistently real. It is always a treat to watch this kind of on-the-mark acting, and the screenplay offers the actors, particularly Weixler, genuine charac-ters to play and a number of choice lines: dry, ironic and funny.

Among the supporting cast, the biggest name (and giving the movie's second best performance) is Jesse Eisenberg, above, playing last night's "date" who turns out to be today's something else. Eisenberg, charismatic as ever but in his own special way, gets the chance to sneak up on the leading man role for a change, and he's quite good (well, when isn't he?).

And then there's Tippi Heddren -- still beautiful and still looking more like an older version of her younger self than do many aging actresses -- who gets the most sustained character of all of Jillian's
customers, and gives back a sustained performance to match.

Free Samples is actually an near-ideal indie film that begins as a genuine and well-wrought character study, includes an entertaining parade of minor characters all brought to fine life, and then ends up as a surprisingly smart and efficient rom-com that first beguiles and finally hog-ties you into utter submission. Neat trick, this.

The 80-minute movie hits VOD and iTunes this Tuesday, May 21, and is said to be opening in theaters, via Starz, the following Friday, May 31. Which theaters?  In the L.A. area, it is getting a single showing premiere, one day only, at Laemmle's Noho 7 this coming Tuesday May 21, simultaneous with the VOD debut. It will then open for a week's run at the Noho on May 31. In New York City, it will open at the Cinema Village on Friday, June 7.

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