‘Free Samples’ Movie Review – Hanging by a Moment
Quirky and independent are almost synonymous terms nowadays. The ones that made it – some including 500 Days of Summer, Little Miss Sunshine, and Juno – started a trend. However, I’ve personally seen plenty of movies on the opposite end of the spectrum. When I had a chance to see Free Samples, a movie that debuted last year at the Tribeca Film Festival, I was scared it’d fall into the “other” category. The result was…well, mixed, because Jay Gammill’s directorial debut has some genuinely good parts, but I’m not sure it totally adds up to be a quality film.
Taking place in sunny Los Angeles, Free Samples spends almost the entire movie following a hungover law school dropout. After agreeing to help her friend, Jillian (Jess Weixler) sets up an ice cream (or “ice cream substance” as she calls it) stand with free samples. Throughout the day, she deals with an array of interesting (and some not-so-interesting) people. Just your run-of-the-mill Los Angelians (or is it Los Angelites?) I suppose.
Of course, there is an underlying conflict – it’s not all about people wanting free ice cream. Jillian spends the day introspectively examining her life, from her future to her love life. Also, this one day just so happens to be her on-again-off-again sorta-fiancee’s (Keir O’Donnell) birthday.
Up until Jesse Eisenberg comes back into the film (he plays Jillian’s newest fling Tex), the film was about as interesting as it sounds. No, this isn’t a compliment. It wasn’t exactly dreadful, but it certainly wasn’t that compelling.
This just goes to show how powerful a few scenes can be because there are two particular ones that go a long way to rescue the film. Tex initially appears during the film’s introduction, but again it’s his return that helps the film. The other great scene is set up by another great character (funny how this happens, huh?) by the name of Betty (Tippi Hedren).
At a short 79 minutes, the film still has a noticeable amount of “fluff” that affects the overall effectiveness of the film. Most of this occurs in the first twenty (or so) minutes and is punctuated by wholly unnecessary patrons of her ice cream truck. The pacing may be the film’s biggest problem actually.
It’s ultimately up to you whether the unnecessary components take away from the film. For me, it wasn’t quite enough to ruin the movie. But boy was it close.
Maybe I shouldn’t have started this by talking about “quirky.” However, the humor definitely is going for quirkiness. And for being a comedy, Jay Gammill’s Free Samples certainly isn’t that funny. Then how can it still be considered an at least decent film? I guess it’s because the film was rescued by a few precise moments. It’s hard to sympathize with the main character, but her growth over the day is still interesting enough…even if the majority of the first act isn’t. I’m not saying you’ll love this film, but I am saying there’s a fairly good chance you’ll like it.
Or at least…part of it.
Free Samples premiered last year and is now available On Demand. It’ll release in limited theaters this coming weekend.
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