Film Review: The Freebie

An intriguing premise rendered ultimately bland and moralistic.

Darren (Dax Shepard) and Annie (Katie Aselton) have been together a while and are totally comfortable with each other. Maybe too comfortable. Sex has become a very sometime thing with them, although they certainly enjoy being in bed together, doing their respective crossword puzzles. They decide to grant each other a single night of infidelity.

Who, in any long-term relationship, hasn't entertained the notion of straying? It's an endlessly intriguing concept and writer-director Aselton at first seems game, but I wish her approach had been more headlong, rather than sideways, as is all too apparent in The Freebie. Darren and Annie are just too nice, too ordinary and bland to engender much viewer passion in their passion. They have that affectless Gen-Y (or is it Z by now?) quality which is inoffensive to the point where you crave a little blatant vulgarity, any sign of real, roiling life.

Humor is often the glue which holds such long-term relationships together, but there is very little of it here (that placid crossword puzzle activity says much). A couple of dinner party scenes with friends whose yuppie talk rather goads them into action provide a little respite from all their cocooning. The most interesting scene is their first discussed broaching of adultery, but it's something of a chore to sit through, what with Aselton's meditative pacing and smothering use of close-ups.

The two finally get off their duffs and go trawling, he to a comely neighborhood barista he's eyed for a while and she to the local bar. Stuff seems to be definitely happening, but then Aselton coyly cuts away from any real—excuse the expression—climaxes, as if operating under her own self-imposed Hays Code. It's all, of course, meant to suggest that imponderable mystery of human choice and behavior (yawn), but it merely further renders totally sexless a film purporting to be about sex. The great Hungarian playwright Ferenc Molnar, in his play The Guardsman, knew how to use this type of suggestiveness for real provocative wit rather than irritating obfuscation.

When literally comes the dawn—to add even more antediluvian flavor—and the two must fess up, Aselton goes all traditionally moralistic. Darren says that he couldn't go through with it, and then rages at Annie for doing what he shied from, and calls her a whore. "But I really didn't!" she pipes, and you know what? We simply don't give a f*** about their f***s.