The Freebie


 

The Freebie

Dax Shepard and Katie Aselton have each, unknown to the other, chewed entire cloves of raw garlic prior to this take.

(2010) Romance (Phase 4) Dax Shepard, Katie Aselton, Bellamy Young, Ross Partridge, Sean Nelson, Marguerite Phillips, Joshua Leonard, Frankie Shaw, Houston Wages, Ken Kennedy, Leonora Gershman, Scott Pitts. Directed by Katie Aselton

 

Who knows what really happens between couples? Once behind the bedroom door, there’s a privacy that is intrinsic to any relationship. Not all relationships, no matter how healthy they seem on the outside, are as healthy as they might be.

Darren (Shepard) and his wife Annie (Aselton) seem to pretty well have it figured out. Outwardly friendly and affectionate, they’ve been married seven years and going strong. However, there’s that pesky behind closed doors thing going on; the spark has faded. It’s been ages since they’ve had sex; most nights they’re content with a little cuddling and crossword puzzles before lights out.

A dinner party in which Lea (Gershman), a friend, informs them that she’s split up with her boyfriend leads to a discussion in which she’s encouraged to put herself out there, to date regularly and have plenty of sex. Not terribly responsible advice but then again these aren’t supposed to necessarily be responsible people. Darren as a matter of fact boasts that when he was single he was quite the playa.

That leads to some conversation between Darren and Annie. The thrill is most definitely gone and they both are eager to get it back. They decide to rev things up by allowing each other a freebie – one night to go outside the marriage and have sex with no repercussions.

Darren immediately seeks out a barista he’s had his eye on (Young) while Annie heads to a bar where she opens up to a bartender (Partridge) about her situation with which he is more than happy to volunteer to assist with. When the night is over, it turns out that their solution to their problem was more like throwing gasoline on a fire and then throwing live ammo into the conflagration.

Aselton is married to director/writer/producer/actor Mark Duplass, who is associated with the mumblecore movement which some critics have lumped this movie into. Quite frankly, I don’t think this really fits into that mold; there are a few elements that are associated with that style (such as the hand-held cameras and intimate conversations being a part of the “action”) but overall there are more elements unalike than like…which isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing.

She does a good job with a subject that can be kind of tricky – sex within a marriage. Hollywood tends to look at the subject either as a raunchy comedy when it isn’t ignoring it altogether. Contrary to what we sometimes let on, sex doesn’t end once the marital vows are said, but often sex takes a different role within the marriage than it filled in the relationship before the marriage. It can wax and wane in terms of importance; sometimes it takes a backseat to other acts in the marriage such as cuddling and talking. Stress in the marriage (whether relationship-related or from outside sources) can also take a toll on the sex life.

For a movie like this to work, the couple in the spotlight has to be absolutely believable and Shepard and Aselton have good chemistry together. Shepard, who’s generally known for his comedic work, does some of the best work of his career to date in a role that’s more likable for the most part than the characters he generally plays. Aselton is also likable and sexy and one gets the sense that in the relationship, the problem tends to be more on Darren’s side than Annie’s; if he wanted to jump her bones she would likely be all too happy to let him.

At times this is very much like being the fly on a bedroom wall, with all the awkwardness that implies. Some might find that off-putting. Also, I was disappointed in the ending which had implications that could conceivably render the entire movie moot; that’s not a good feeling to have when you’re done watching the end credits. Still, Aselton is already a fine actress and it’s clear her husband isn’t the only director in the household. She has talent and has a future both behind the camera and in front of it – or in both places. I’m rooting for the latter, personally; the world could use a few more women who are adept at both.

WHY RENT THIS: A surprisingly adult and even-handed discussion of marital sexual apathy. Shepard delivers one of his finest performances. 

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little uncomfortable at times. The ending is a bit of a cop-out.

FAMILY VALUES: There are plenty of bad words and given the subject matter plenty of sexual situations as well.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Shepard joined the cast a mere 18 hours before shooting began.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are four faux public service announcements promoting National Freebie Day, which were also used to market the film.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16,613 on an unreported production budget; no way this movie made money.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hall Pass

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: Total Recall (2012)

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Lucky


Lucky

The happy couple - how lucky!

(2011) Comedy (Phase 4) Colin Hanks, Ari Graynor, Ann-Margaret, Jeffrey Tambor, Mimi Rogers, Adam J. Harrington, Allison Mackie, Tom Amandes, Michelle Davidson, Olivia Sather, Heather Marie Marsden, Sean Modica, Jill Carr, Elizabeth Uhl. Directed by Gil Cates Jr.

 

Love and marriage can be a killer. Compromise and understanding are keys to any relationship, but especially in any marriage, particularly in new ones. Getting to understand your partner in any relationship is the key to making it work.

Ben Keller (Hanks) is a bit of a noodle. He is a quiet, shy sort who works as an accountant. He seems generally nice although a bit socially awkward. He has a crush on the receptionist, Lucy St. Martin (Graynor) and has had since school but has never acted on it, not really. She’s aware of his affections but she is much more pragmatic; she has her eye casting about for men in a different economic strata. Ben is beneath her notice, frankly.

That is, until Ben wins the Iowa State Lotto and over $38 million. Overnight he’s a millionaire and Lucy suddenly sees him as husband material. Soon they are dating and before long, they are married, much to the satisfaction of Pauline (Ann-Margaret), Ben’s mom who had despaired of her shy son ever finding a match.

Lucy may be all about the money and Ben doesn’t seem to be too shy about spending it on her – from building her a dream home to an expensive Hawaiian honeymoon. It is in fact while in Hawaii that Lucy discovers that Ben has been keeping a secret from her and it’s a doozy – mild-mannered Ben is a serial killer and as Lucy looks a little more deeply into this, she discovers that his victims bear a more than passing resemblance to herself.

The director is the son of a Hollywood producer (best known for producing the Oscar telecasts) who is directing the son of an acting legend (Hanks, son of Tom). That really is neither here nor there but it is some interesting trivia. The premise here sounds tailor made for a black comedy directed by the likes of the Coen brothers but Cates comes off as a bit inexperienced here.

This kind of material needs a deft touch, one that is light where it needs to be but unfortunately the direction is mostly heavy-handed. We are hit in the face with an anvil rather than tickled gently with a feather. While the former gets our attention initially, it gets old quickly and eventually leaves us numb. The latter may not necessarily be as attention-getting at first but it stays with us longer for far more pleasant reasons.

Hanks is rapidly getting a reputation for playing nice guys with a dark side (as he does in “Mad Men”) and this might be his quintessential role. He resembles his father in many ways but he is much more of a sad sack than Daddy ever was. He isn’t quite the indelible lead man his father is but he has the DNA for it, not to mention that he adds his own stamp.

Graynor is kind of a cut-rate Renee Zellweger in a lot of ways, particularly in her delivery. She’s kind of a skinny Bridget Jones without the accent here. I get the sense she’s emulating the screwball comedies of the ’30s in the way she makes her character sassy and plucky. It’s not really original in any way but she at least captures the essence of the character nicely.

Veteran character actor Tambor plays a detective who is investigating the disappearance of several young girls. Tambor’s laconic delivery is perfect for the role and he always seems to deliver the goods no matter how small the role (and this one is small but memorable indeed). Ann-Margaret is also a welcome addition. In fact, the cast is pretty solid.

The filmmakers seem to be caught between making a screwball comedy and a black comedy and wind up with neither. There are some great moments (as when Lucy has a frank conversation with Ben’s victims) as well as some that could have been. Unfortunately, this is a movie where it felt like each turn it could have made could have gone better if they’d taken a different direction. Chalk it up to inexperience and hope the next one is better.

WHY RENT THIS: Nice performances from Graynor and Tambor. Competent black comedy.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Lacks consistency.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some bad language, a bit of violence, some sexuality and a couple of gruesome images.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Hawaii-themed restaurant scene was actually filmed at a zoo exhibit in Omaha.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s a music video by David Choi singing “I Choose Happiness” from the movie.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $8,564 on an unreported production budget; no way this made any money.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Thin Ice