A super-concentrated example of the common desultory attitude residing in the hearts and minds of several many twentysomethings Free Samples tries to lend a voice to this generation’s brand of slackers, and it tries hard! A good cast does what it can, but with the labored humor and a plot to match, they cannot strengthen an otherwise brittle comedy.
Jillian’s semester off from Stanford Law School is not what she thought it would be. She has not found her calling, or any sort of clarity for that matter. She is also estranged from her fiance. On his birthday Jillian wakes up with a massive hangover and no account of the previous night, which she knows involved Tex (Jesse Eisenberg), a relative stranger whose real name she does not know. To make matters worse Jillian’s best friend, who hands out free samples from an ice-cream truck in the parking lot of a church, is attending a last minute intervention for her alcoholic brother and needs Jill to step in for the day.
With no caffeine yet in her system, Jillian is left to combat her hangover, the heat and the citizens of Los Angeles with nothing but unlimited cigarette breaks and relentless sarcasm.
Jess Weixler (Teeth), forges through the character to the best of her ability, but Jillian is just so lost, insecure and abrasive, that even moments of truth and sensitivity are not effective. Her most interesting quality is how much she sounds like Winona Rider (in terms of her voice, not rhetoric), which in turn ushers in nostalgia for the ultimate slacker generation girl in a classic depiction of slackerdom– Lelaina from Reality Bites. There are amusing moments sprinkled here and there, and the supporting cast, which includes Eisenberg, Jason Ritter and Tippi Hedren is good, but they aren’t utilized very well.
It takes a certain amount of talent in the part of writer and actress to pull off an excess of sarcasm and rancor, but both Jillian and Jess just drown in it. Slowly, the circumstances of Jillian’s disposition are revealed, but they are trite and contrived and do little to elevate her character’s level of likability or depth. The only connection is that we want her shift to end just as much as she does. Its not painstaking, but its not where we want to be either.
Free Samples, directed by Jay Gammill and written by Jim Beggarly, makes its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival and is featured in the Spotlight program.