Dax Shepard plays Darren and Katie Aselton is Annie.

The Freebie : a couple takes a break from fidelity

In The Freebie, writer and director Katie Aselton (who also plays Annie) gives us an affable, thought-provoking glimpse into the dilemma every married or long-time couple faces: What do you do when the thrill is gone? Can you break your fidelity for a moment, scratch the itch, and come out unscathed? This delicate debate is explored with honesty and humor through the eyes of one couple, still genuinely in love, who are wedged in a relationship dulled by time.

Darren and Annie attempt to use the fantasy and thrill of adultery to save their marriage. But the rush of bedding a stranger soon drowns out the couple's sense of reality and accountability. Many long-term couples have playful discussions about who they'd do if the other gave them the go-ahead. But while Annie and Darren lightly josh each other about the plan, they're doggedly determined to actually go through with it, insisting it'll spice things up and snap the relationship back to the way it used to be.

Annie treats a flirtatious moment between Darren and a coquettish coffee shop girl with lighthearted humor, kidding that Darren's already laying down some groundwork for the coming "free" night. He is, of course. But Annie's response to his flirtation with another woman is an illustration of how helplessly guileless the couple is, and how lost they are now that the proverbial can of worms has been opened. A few scenes later, Annie's older sister is pleading with her not to go through with the deal. And while we get sucked into the lusty excitement of the proposal, we know big sister is right — boring, prude, a bit of a Debbie Downer — but totally right. It's a terrible idea that should be scrapped immediately.


The Freebie

The Freebie: December 31 through January 6 at Coral Gables Art Cinema, 260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 786-385-9689; gablescinema.com. Starring Katie Aselton, Leonora Gershman, and Ken Kennedy. Directed by Katie Aselton. 78 minutes. Rated R.

As we witness how it all goes down, the story interweaves a series of flashbacks that show the couple discussing the parameters of the deal while lying in bed. It's a clever format, because we know the end result of the plan, and the toll it will take on the couple. But we experience their wide-eyed naïveté as they hash out the master plan, joking and full of vivacity, before the fateful day arrives.

Dax Shepard gives a subtle and candid performance, successfully balancing Darren's charm and vulnerability with the smoldering frustration that lies within. Likewise, Aselton's Annie is an amorous, sexy girl-next-door, caught in a web of moral perplexity. Both actors demonstrate a refreshing chemistry and earnestness as their characters struggle with their dilemma, hoping against hope they'll come out of the impasse with souls intact.

At its heart, The Freebie is a moral tale that vacillates between the consequences of mutually agreed upon infidelity, and the ambivalence of purpose behind marriage and faithfulness.


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