By: Addison Wylie
The Freebie focuses on the concept of feeling tied down. Not particularly in a negative way. When settling down in, what feels like, a serious relationship, the thought of having intimate relations with only your partner and no one else is a shock to the system for some people. The Freebie demonstrates how even the seemingly “perfect” couple can hit this wall and humour the idea that there’s an alternative way to overcome this psychological obstacle.
The film starts off at a party. Couples sit around a table and discuss relationships as well as the new freedom a newly single friend has obtained. Annie, played by Katie Aselton, and Darren, played by Dax Shepard, are among these couples. When the topic of being single arises, Darren proposes to the friend that she should “let loose”. She should party and have fun and throw away all her worries because considering her age, the next Mr. Right she meets, may just be “the one”. That night, Darren initiates a discussion with Annie and tells her that the thought of being with one person for the rest of his life sort of freaks him out. He explains that he’s head-over-heels in love with Annie but he feels like there is a portion of his thoughts that wonder what it would be like to “let loose”. Annie agrees she has had these thoughts in the past as well. The two lovebirds think of a plan that allows both Darren and Annie to have a one night stand with no questions asked that will allow them to discharge from their conventional relationship.
Freebie starts off very strong, providing a brutally honest depiction of a comfortable relationship. Aselton and Shepard play off one another quite nicely and develop convincing performances. Shepard gives his best role to date as the happy but frustrated Darren and proves that he isn’t just about making slapstick mainstream comedies. We see for the first time that when Shepard is given the right material, he creates a memorable character. Aselton does a great job portraying two sides of emotions; the expressions that convey what she’s feeling as well as the face she makes to cover what she’s actually feeling. There are subtle moments when the couple are devising the plan where the audience can see Aselton demonstrating this acting method.
The Freebie is also the latest addition to the Mumblecore film movement. For those unfamiliar with Mumblecore, it’s a style of filmmaking that strips the film down to its bare bones. The film is produced with a very low budget and even though the script consists of written lines and scenes, improvised dialogue is welcomed. The look of The Freebie feels very intimate and involving. When Annie and Darren are having affectionate conversations in bed, the audience feels included because of how the camera’s close-up is framed and by how the characters are whispering to one another. The same can be said when Darren and Annie are arguing. Between fast exchanges, the shots are edited together in a fashion where it feels as if we’re in the middle of the yelling and we don’t know whose said to pick. Cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke also isn’t afraid to linger on expressions. When one character is explaining how they feel, the camera frequently cuts away to show the listener to establish how they’re taking in the information. These shots give our lead actors more screen time to develop their portrayals.
Although the film has a lot of positive elements about it, there are an equal amount of flaws. Because of how independently financed the production was, Aselton uses rustic original music composed by Julian Wass. The accompanying music is an interesting blend of forlorn quirkiness but ends up being repetitive as the tracks continue. Aselton also wrote the screenplay. I highly commend Aselton on writing a script that is filled with passion and truthfulness but after the exposition is established, the film has a constant feeling of running on fumes in order to putter its way to a powerless conclusion. For a movie that clocks in at 78 minutes, that criticism speaks volumes about its unhurried pace. Maybe if Aselton took her script and made a short film that checked in at 45 minutes, the movie wouldn’t feel so thin and lethargic.
Even though The Freebie may not be everyone’s cup of tea considering the production values, I hope movie goers can realize how much integrity Aselton applied to her film. The film may have a sluggish pace but I appreciate the authenticity in the material itself. It’s the type of honesty that can rub off on the cast members as well. Maybe this is why Shepard gives us one of the strongest performances of the year in an otherwise mediocre film. Whether she makes another full length feature or tackles a short film, Aselton proves she’s very outspoken and I’m interested to see what her future in cinema holds.