10 ITEMS OR LESS

R
Reviews

The title 10 Items or Less refers to the supermarket checkout line in Carson, California, where Scarlet (Paz Vega) toils as a cashier, keeping fierce watch over pushy customers and deadbeat Charmin squeezers. There, she encounters a movie star (Morgan Freeman, referred to, simply, as Him) who is researching an upcoming indie film role which may coax him out of a nervous four-year retirement. They strike up an initially chary, eventually lovely friendship, unusual for its lack of sexual urgency and just as refreshingly welcome for that fact.

Written and directed by Brad Silberling, 10 Items or Less is as slight as it is wholly disarming, and it gives Freeman a chance to display graceful qualities as a romantic comedian he has rarely had before. His miming and humor-filled reactions to the brave, economically challenged new world around him evoke the great silent farceurs Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton. And from the first scene--a hilarious conversation with a clueless young driver (a delightful Jonah Hill) on the way to an indie location--he fully conveys the wary world-weariness and discontent of his privileged movie-star lot. That position is not without its humiliations, be they discovering his movies everywhere on video, seriously marked down, or an inability to remember his own phone number, so accustomed is he to having those kinds of things remembered for him.

Freeman shares a special, rapturous chemistry with Vega, whose English may be at times indecipherable but whose emotions are always stunningly clear. She's a blissfully pretty, transparent actress, the exact kind of workaday beauty you see slaving in jobs like cashier or waitress the world over and wonder about. Scarlet's dreams go no higher than wanting a job where she can get off of her feet, like a secretary, but, to her, even this seems as likely as starring in a blockbuster film. As delicate as she looks, Scarlet is nonetheless fierce when crossed and gives twice as good as she gets, whether from a lazy, slutty co-worker, or her jerk of an ex-husband (Bobby Cannavale who, good as he is, needs to retire from playing sleazeballs after this, Fast Food Nation and Happy Endings).

The camerawork and music (a judicious use of Paul Simon, as well as Spanglish hip-hop) serve the piece well. The ending is bittersweet and, while touching, a little unsatisfying. Why the semi-tragic overtones of these two unlikelies never meeting again? Although Freeman may be ensconced in Beverly Hills, this isn't Restoration England--class barriers surely aren't insurmountable, as his own eminence certainly proves. The instinctive bond these two souls share is something rare enough to be continued, but one is nevertheless grateful for the utterly amiable time spent with them.