The best way to cure a hangover at nine in the morning is with some good old-fashioned over-processed ice cream—vanilla or chocolate only. In Tribeca Film Festival’s highlighted feature narrative “Free Samples,” directed by festival newcomer and young artist Jay Gammil, a generic quirky comedic heartwarmer is enlivened by overbearing snarky wit and charm. When law-school dropout and budding alcoholic Jillian (Jess Weixler) begrudgingly agrees to cover her best friend’s shift at the “Mike’s Dream” ice cream truck for the duration of the day in suburban Los Angeles, she is forced to confront her premature mid-life crisis while handing out free samples to strangers and friends alike.
It is quickly apparent that Jillian is in no mood to be dealing with hungry customers. Her sassy, hungover comments add juvenile humor to the simple plot line and setting. Her “having a bad day” attitude is apparent and, at times, annoying as she interacts with creepy comic book weirdos, annoyed foreign neighbors, manipulative kids, and hippie hobos with feisty comebacks, complaints, and mannerisms. But her sarcastic bliss can’t last forever, as Jillian’s confrontations with customers start to have an increasingly profound effect on her unintended self-reflection. She hears the inspiring life story of a retired Hollywood star, helps a friend’s sibling confront his addiction, meets her previous evening’s one night stand, and even receives comfort from an eight-year old girl.
Jillian’s constant bad attitude is sometimes off-putting as her shrewdness gets overshadowed by her bothersome immaturity. Her self-realization, the supposed climax of the feature narrative, is very oddly timed and sudden as opposed to gradual, which damages the viewer’s overall satisfaction. A few awkwardly written lines stand out as well, though they can easily be played off as another contributing factor to the “indie” tone of the film. The strongest aspect of the movie is oddly not the overly pessimistic protagonist, but the star-studded supporting roles that the film has to offer. Indie professionals like Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Ritter are minor characters, but their obvious expertise and ability to carry a scene force viewers to ask why they aren’t featured more throughout the movie.
In essence, “Free Samples” takes a seemingly boring every-day plot and tries to juice it with overly quirky characters and odd situations. Though some jokes are laudable and separate scenes stand well on their own, the movie as a whole seems patchy, oddly paced, and overly sarcastic. The movie is definitely not a masterpiece and is not the best among other works in the festival. Instead, “Free Samples” seems like it would fit better as a friendly campus dorm “indie movie night” type of cinema, but nothing further. Maybe Jillian should have stuck to cold showers and black coffee after all.