By Christopher Campbell | Spout September 22, 2010 at 8:03AM
Once in a while a film comes along that speaks to a generation. Kate Aselton's "The Freebie" is not one of those films. Instead it's a work that speaks to any and every generation as its members enter a certain age. I want to generalize this period as one's 30s, but it could possibly come about earlier depending on the individual. All I can say is that I'm in my early 30s and it was the perfect thing to come about right now.
"The Freebie' stars Aselton and Dax Shepard as a married couple who can't easily recall the last time they had sex, made love, had intercourse or any related activity. So, to jump start their own sex life they come up with the obviously disastrous plan to each have a one-time-only affair. Many are comparing the plot to that of Lynn Shelton's "Humpday," which stars Aselton's husband, Mark Duplass (also a producer on this film), who plays a married man who comes up with the curiously unlikely plan to have homosexual intercourse with a friend.
I prefer "The Freebie." It's a far more emotional work, whereas "Humpday" is more interested in the cerebral interests of the hypothetical situation and the questions of will they or won't they and why or why not. "The Freebie" also deals in and works out a hypothetical concept and does offer the suspense and possible ambiguity of similar answers, but in the end it's less important to know if or why the couple goes through with their affairs and more about the problem that gets them to concoct such a cockamamie idea in the first place.
In the film, the plan comes out of a kind of analytical response to the couple's intimacy problem rather than an emotional one. It seems the logical answer, similar to how another set of married characters claim to have gotten pregnant because it's the next logical step in their lives. Watching "The Freebie," I realized how much of my life had become based in logic and thoughtful planning since I entered my 30s, with few things done out of passion and spontaneity. How many people who consider themselves real adults -- now more likely in the 30s than the 20s -- do things and make decisions, particularly involving relationships, mindfully rather than from the heart? Even thinking about this, you may be saying to yourself, yes, well that's how it goes, logically.
For Annie and Darren (Aselton and Shepard's characters), even if they did have regular sex with each other it would probably have been preplanned or otherwise more mechanical and decided upon "lovemaking" than they had in younger days (before or since they got together). When seeking a partner for their respective affairs they also over-think more than they do. And that's not all because of their conscience. Mostly its that they're in that stage of life where so much is given forethought if not also total analysis of results, timing, cost, etc. We do it with our careers and planning families, scheduling in date nights as much as working out bill payments.
There is some of this address of logical versus passionate living and decision-making in "Humpday." I'm reminded of that film's drama with pregnancy planning and the scheduling of sex around ovulation. But "The Freebie" definitely promotes emotionality more often as a basis for healthy living and choice-making and thereby engages the viewer's own heart. Like many couples of a certain age, Annie and Darren end up only expressing themselves passionately through argument, and it gets very ugly, but at least it's raw, real and unrestrained (Aselton in particular gives an amazing performance during the climactic fight). Yet the film is not exactly laid out so easily or concretely. Aselton's not saying we all have to go wild and reckless. Certainly we can't do everything without proper thought.
Since seeing the film, though, I can't stop pondering choices made and being made and whether or not I'm merely going through the logical motions with my life or primarily acting on instinct and with my heart in daily experiences, both great and small. The irony is of course that now I'm always consciously trying to think about how I think, which isn't any better. For the record, though, and because my fiancee is likely reading this, I can honestly admit that my recent choice to become engaged was totally from the heart.
"The Freebie" is currently playing in New York City and will open in Los Angeles on October 1 (and wider next month?). U.S. and Canada DVD release is planned for January 18, 2011.
Check out the trailer below: