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Film Review: In The Freebie, The Seven-Year Itch Is a Bitch

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Annie and Darren's love for one another is genuine and their friendship deep. But trouble seems to be brewing beneath the surface. The loving wedded couple, it seems, have lost their lust for each other. Instead of consummating a spontaneous moment of passion, the two begin debating when the last time they had sex was, and then decide to have a crossword puzzle race instead. Later that night, realizing their plight, the two hatch a plan to give each other one free night to sleep with a total stranger. No-strings attached. No questions asked. The seven-year itch is a bitch. Read on for a review of The Freebie, a film opening at the Coral Gables Art Cinema tonight.

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

Can the fantasy and thrill of adultery save Darren and Annie's relationship? As the two begin to learn, the rush of bedding a stranger can drown out reality and accountability. Every long-term couple has had a playful discussion on who they'd do if the other gave them the go-ahead. And while Annie and Darren lightly josh each other about the plan, they're doggedly determined to actually go through with it, insisting that it'll spice things up between them and snap them back to the way things used to be.

Annie treats a flirtatious moment between Darren and a coquettish coffee shop girl with light-heartedness as she kids him that he's already laying down some groundwork for the coming "free" night. He is, of course. But Annie's response to seeing Darren flirt 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, we see Annie's older sister pleading with her not to go through with it. And while we get sucked into the lusty excitement of such a proposal, we also know big sister is right. Boring. Prude. A bit of a Debbie Downer. But totally right.

This is a terrible idea that should be scrapped immediately.  The story is told in a series of flashbacks as the couple discusses the parameters of their deal lying in bed, while we see exactly how it all goes down. It's a clever device that works, because we witness the result of their plan come to fruition and the toll it takes on the couple. We see their wide-eyed naïveté as they hash out their master plan with jokes and 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 morality and perplexity. Both actors carry the film with refreshing chemistry and earnestness, as the characters struggle with their dilemma while hoping against hope that they'll come out of this impasse with souls intact.

At its heart, The Freebie is a morality tale vacillating between the consequences of a mutually agreed act of infidelity and the ambivalence of purpose behind marriage and faithfulness.

The Freebie opens at the Coral Gables Art Cinema (260 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables) tonight and runs through January 6. Tickets cost $9 for general admission and $7 for seniors and students. Call 786-385-9689 or visit gablescinema.com.

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