Raw and emotionally truthful, “The Freebie” (opening in limited release today, 9/17/10) is an intriguing two-hander (mostly), about the dangers of temptation and the freedom of monogamy.
Which may seem like a contradiction in terms. To some, monogamy is prison, a life sentence in a two-person cell that restricts, constricts and all the other, um, –stricts.
As writer-director Katie Aselton and castmate Dax Shepard show, monogamy frees you from worry – or it should. You fiddle with that sense of trust and intimacy at your own peril.
Shepard and Aselton play Annie and Darren, a married couple who won’t admit that they’re a little bored with their sex life. They get caught up in a discussion at a dinner party about fidelity and, that night in bed, Darren brings it up: He feels so confident in the strength of their marriage that each of them could take a night off and hook up with someone else, without it having an impact.
It would mean nothing, it would be mutual and it would be a one-night-only free pass. No emotional connection – just sex with a stranger. Then back to the bonds of holy wedlock, no questions asked.
Just because the questions aren’t asked, however, doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Once the genie is out of the bottle, once the toothpaste is out of the tube, once – well, you get the idea. Pick your own Pandora’s-box metaphor and it probably applies.
Still, Aselton has assembled this relatively straightforward tale in a way that provokes thought and keeps you guessing. She bounces back and forth in time, between the couple’s initial pillow-talk discussion about the idea of a freebie and rule-setting; the evening in question; and the aftermath.
She begins near the end, jumps to the beginning, then moves around in ways that make you wonder whether she’s commenting on the beginning with the end – or offering alternative versions of the same story. Excitement and whim give way to guilt and recrimination – or do they?
What’s clear, however, is just how troubling this situation is for both of them. And Aselton and Shepard both give performances that are nuanced and subtle, finding feelings beneath feelings in their reactions, without striking poses or being obviously actorish. Instead, like many of the DIY-style movies that make the leap these days, this one has a natural feel that keeps you watching because what they’re going through seems so real.
There are so many movies being released these days – almost 20 today alone in New York – that it would be easy for a little film like “The Freebie” to get lost. But remember this name because it absolutely is worth seeing – and worth finding.