The Punk'd prodigy takes another big-screen stab in The Freebie
When at a dinner party Darren fervently urges a friend to sow all wild oats lest she meet Mr. Right and be doomed to never have sex with anyone else again, this low ebb becomes an issue. Should they do something about it? Perhaps by choosing a single, specific date on which they are free to (separately) do somebody else? Then return home refreshed, newly appreciative of and horny toward each other? Uh-huh.
This plan is presented so stealthily by Darren — and Shepard is one of those actors whose characters' thought processes leak haplessly through his googly eyes, rendering fibs and scheming hilarious — that by the time it's agreed on, Annie thinks it's her idea. Was there ever a romantic comedy in which mutual cheating turned out a good idea? It doesn't here, either. But getting to the "We've made a terrible, terrible mistake" part proves loose, amusing, credible, and briefly dead serious. (That serious bit proves that the ingratiating Shepard can do mirthless, ugly, and abusive when necessary.)
The Freebie was largely improvised. Aselton is used to such processes, being married to and sometimes cast by mumblecore leader Mark Duplass (2005'sThe Puffy Chair, Cyrus). Like many m-core movies, The Freebie — which otherwise feels too eventful to be classified as such — looks like crap. But Aselton gets a lot of other things right, from the regular-people L.A. milieu to perfect mixtape soundtrack choices by artists you've never heard of.
All the performances are excellent, the director herself playing naturalistic straight-woman to Shepard's toned-down yet still slightly surreal mix of sly, snarky, and spacey. File his career next to that of Steve Zahn, Seann William Scott, or David Arquette, to name other guys who may seldom or never get movies built around them. They should, though.
THE FREEBIE opens Fri/29 in Bay Area theaters.