free samples

Most indie movies are slow and quiet. I would like to say that Free Samples, directed by Jay Gammill, is the same, but it’s hard to use the term “quiet,” since the film follows such a loudmouthed character. The film is built on the sarcastic negativity of Jillian, played by Jess Weixler. And with only a few funny moments, and a slow-coming but not surprising ending, it isn’t too memorable.

The beginning scene sets the tone for the rest of the drama. At a bar, the slurring Jillian brushes over some of her issues: dropping out of school, having no profession, the mysterious Danny (Keir O’Donnell), and how everything is f-ed up. The next morning, a friend ropes her into filling in for her at an ice cream truck on free sample day.

A barrage of ridiculous characters visits Jillian.  With all of the absurd requests she gets (two separate people ask for stamps), Jillian responds exactly how I wish I could – with disdainful sarcasm, calling out all the BS of each new patron.  When a chubby child asks for both flavors for his free sample (when only one is allowed), to his “You could give me both if you wanted to,” Jillian responds, “Yeah, but we live in a polite society where there are rules.”

All of her problems remain somewhat of a question mark until the end, when the elusive Danny is introduced.  When he comes in, so do the reasons for her problems.  The whole day is wasted away in confusion and tiredness (both for Jillian and the viewer) seemingly waiting for the denouement, when it is finally revealed why she left law school, why she’s in LA, and why her life is in a current state of drunken disappointment.

So for a good hour or so, all the viewer sees is a hot and bothered Jillian being rude to everyone without a glimpse at her character’s interior.  Music is played sparingly and most of the time we’re hearing ambient sound, so the director’s choice to keep his audience with the leading lady with minimal external stimulation creates this sense of bored confusion that’s a little uncomfortable, one that matches not just Jillian’s state but that of her generation.

The movie is dominated by staccato bursts of sarcasm, little humorous moments and awkward situations, and Jillian’s lack of caring and general rudeness. Weixler does a convincing down-and-out protagonist, channeling Nathaniel West’s Todd Hacket from The Day of the Locust quite well. The other characters take a backseat in screen time, but not in strength. All of the secondary cast get a little moment to show their past and their vulnerability. Tippi Hedren’s Betty is particularly touching, and it’s so good to see her in the limelight, especially with the nods to her past beauty and success.

Overall, Free Samples is just a snippet out of the life of a modern-day girl who is confused about herself.  The different people she meets are amusing, and hopefully not a realistic sample of how people act towards food trucks.  Not much happens in the sense of excitement, and even the drama is dull, though this does make the film feel more realistic. There are some redeeming moments (I think I laughed about five times), and I left feeling pleased and a bit tired. And while the ending is satisfying, it doesn’t quite make up for making me sit through Jillian’s boredom. The only slightly pleasant feelings are too little, too late.

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