Dax Shepherd = Zach Braff?
Starring: Dax Shepherd, Katie Aselton
Written by Robert Patrick
“The Freebie”, with its breezy poster art cobbled into a whimsical frenzy, looks like a date movie. Dax Shepherd and Katie Aselton are in bed together, their expressions melded into an inquisitive stare, as the movie’s title lies at the bottom of the winsome duo, pumped up in a goofy font, making the movie look like comedic pap. Whomever took the chisel to this advertisement campaign clearly has not seen the movie; or, at the very least, didn’t make it past the film’s first fifteen easygoing minutes to realize that Aselton’s opus is a thorny bud that should be handled carefully. It should be said here that these two characters, in a marriage for several years, are facing a sort of emotional leprosy. From the outside they seem like the perfect couple, as most sparring mates do, when they have a night out with friends. But, really, the sound of colliding wine glasses are shrill battle cries. That’s what Aselton’s movie is really about: the subconscious jessing that holds together relationships.
The film often sprouts virulent little fangs that one, especially with a girlfriend or boyfriend in tow, should be aware of at all times. This isn’t a date movie. It’s more of an intervention. The married couple in this film decide that, in order to keep their listless relationship pounding, they should, for one night only, sleep with another person to fuse a spark in their own love life. This idea, of course, is a brutish and animalistic one. Darren and Annie (Dax Shepherd and Katie Aselton) are the duo in question. This serpentine agreement leads our two protagonists down a spiritually crippling road that the likes of a cigarette wielding Elizabeth Taylor would have been maladjusted to in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”
The chorus of follies here are poisoned arrows, no doubt, but the aftermath of the battle sees Darren and Annie form new state lines in their relationship that they had not set before. “The Freebie” is supercharged with a lot of dialogue. You can practically feel the ink of the script rubbing off onto your hands when you watch this particular movie. One must be aware that this caustic ditty is, above all else, a mumblecore film with less improvising. Aselton’s feature spends most of its time framing close-up shots of Shepherds face, as he lies in bed, restively, with his longtime wife tangled in a mess of sheets. The seemingly neutral backdrops, however, are really fiery jumping boards for a lot of intimate malaise that transpires. Unfortunately, though, some of the movie is noticeably sluggish, to the chagrin of my general liking on this film, and feels like it has a tire boot on. This is a shame, considering the length of the picture skips above a shallow waterline of eighty-minutes.
Look, movies like these need to be made. Too often is the decline of romance treated like a wrinkled comic-strip and not often enough like a ash covered Pompeii. Hollywood seeds out the idea that tainted romance is a hub for rosy quarrels and fleeting gaffs. Perhaps Katherine Heigl may represent some people, but I have a sleuth-like hunch, in the bottom of my gut, that says otherwise. “The Freebie” is refreshing in the way that it provides us with a mirror to look upon. And yeah, sometimes it is ridiculously torpid and repetitious, but so is much of life. Shepherd is fine in this film, as he portrays a man who carves out a misguided rescue attempt to save his inanimate marriage. Aselton is the gear that holds the entire production together, however, as she performs with a most amazing tenderness and abandon.
“The Freebie” is a rogue wave of volatile emotion in a sea of otherwise restful waters. Is it a movie to see with your significant other? Perhaps not. Is it one to see for yourself? Absolutely.