Directed by Jay Gammill and written by Jim Beggarly, Free Samples had its West Coast premiere at the Newport Beach Film Festival in April, and it’s coming back to California to the Palo Alto Film Festival, September 27-30, 2012. Also screening at the Austin Film Festival in October, the film stars Jess Weixler (Teeth), Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) and Jason Ritter and follows a day in the life of Jillian, a young law school dropout who has reached a sort of early-life crisis. She spends most of her time drinking and thinking vaguely of becoming an artist, but on this day a hungover Jillian must stand-in for a friend at her job, handing out free samples of chocolate or vanilla ice cream at Mike’s Dream ice cream truck.
One might fear that it would be difficult to keep a narrative flowing in a film based solely around an ice cream truck, but Free Samples manages to pull it off. Jillian meets one quirky, interesting character after another, including an aging actress played by Tippi Hedren (The Birds). Of course, Jesse Eisenberg’s character swings by, and the The Social Network star is all charm. It’s nice to see him play a character who is self-possessed and confident without being a creepy jerk.
Yet the film relies predominantly on Jess Weixler, who is on camera for the entire film and must carry it herself. Very few actors can do that, yet you never get tired of watching Weixler contort her face from one strange, quirky grimace into another. Here she may remind some of Uma Thurman, partly because she has Beatrix Kiddo’s hair, but also because she has a kind of fresh beauty that doesn’t come off as vampy or overdone. Overall, Weixler is great at playing the handful that is Jillian.
Final Verdict: With a simple plot, the film is not especially deep, but it is nicely-paced and funny with great performances and a reminder that every stranger has a story.