“Someone should ask me what’s so f**ked up. I’d have one or two words to say about that.”
“So what’s so f**ked up, in one or two words?”
Quarter-life comedy “Free Samples” unequivocally defines itself as an indie film from the very first shot. Two girls and two boys sit at a bar, cupping glasses and vacantly starring ahead while complaining about the beer, the music and the general direction of their lives.
Jess Weixler carries the film with a permanently affixed scowl as aimless twentysomething Jillian. Halley Feiffer, Jason Ritter and Jesse Eisenberg round out the angsty crew, set against a series of caricatures of Angelenos seeking free samples of “ice cream-like substance” from the dilapidated Mike’s Dream truck.
But Director Jay Gammill executes this simplest of premises with ease and wit. Trapped in the ice cream truck until Nancy (Feiffer) finishes the alcohol intervention for her brother, Jillian unwillingly doles out five-seconds-worth of chocolate or vanilla—but not both—with an equal measure of sass.
“You seem like you’re a cool person, but then, when someone starts talking to you, you turn out to be a complete pain in the ass,” Wally (Ritter) admonishes when Jillian insults his band.
Jillian’s problematic attitude stems directly from her inability to answer a series of “very simple questions” about her life. Will she marry her fiancé Danny? Will she go back to Stanford to finish her law degree? Will she forgive her father for running off with someone “two weeks” older than her?
“I’m a little lost. But I think Los Angeles is the perfect place to be untethered and float amongst the stars,” Jillian tells herself.
Luckily, strangers are sages in “Free Samples,” screening as part of the Tribeca Film Festival. A child tells her, “Dads can be such jerks sometimes,” then holds her hand briefly and promises that everything will be okay. “Pride goeth before the fall,” intones aging actress Betty (Tippi Hedren) while recalling her past amongst the rich and famous of Hollywood’s elite. Albert (Eisenberg), constantly referred to as Tex by Jillian, tells her, “I think you’ll find that a lot of people want to do things for you.”
“Free Samples” is a delightful, simple little film. Unlike those indie films that go nowhere while complaining the entire time, Gammill manages to keep the plot in motion, even as his characters wallow in stasis. While none of the revelations of the film hit as hard as they could, that, too, is something of a pleasure.
It’s also quite nice to see Jesse Eisenberg tone down the awkward to play the suave love interest. Having exchanges souls with his childhood idol in a moment of panic, Albert is now a cool, collected cat who’s largely got it all figured out. He is the adorable foil to Jillian, the girl who has the snarky answer to everything but doesn’t know anything at all. Slightly bitter tasting and sometimes chalky, “Free Samples” is nonetheless just as nostalgic as Mike’s Dream ice cream, and goes down with the sticky sweetness of days gone by.
J-Connection: Jesse Eisenberg was raised in a secular Jewish family from Poland and Ukraine.