Morgan Freeman does not play himself in "10 Items or Less," but the joke is that he's coming awfully close. His role is that of an beloved and respected actor known for a majestic voice and a sense of authority. We know he is not Morgan Freeman - too many unsubtle hints sprinkled throughout take care of that - but there's this playful way the movie never quite comes fully clear about it, teasing us with running gags about Ashley Judd movies.
Freeman's anonymous character - labeled simply "Him" in the credits - is a legendary movie star whose fears of commitment and failure have left him in hiding. He hasn't made a film in four years. Now he's back, taking a small role in an independent production, even if he won't let himself admit it; he's quick to tell everyone that he hasn't officially agreed to the part. Still, he has agreed to character research, planning to spend a few hours at a rundown grocery store in a seedy part of town.
Character research, it turns out, is his great passion. He spends every minute of his waking life studying others. Their quirks, their patterns, their little rote mannerisms. He loves it, finding great wonder in, say, how fast an office worker can flip through a stack of files, or how rhythmically a cashier can handle groceries. As a man so detached from the rest of the world, he sees this as a chance to reconnect.
It's at the grocery he meets a real firecracker named Scarlet (the unbearably adorable Paz Vega). She runs the express lane with a ruthless efficiency. Despite a loud mouth and a quick temper, the actor also sees a sweetness and an intelligence to go along with that tough work ethic.
When the actor's ride fails to show up (and the actor discovers he doesn't even know his own phone number), Scarlet offers him a lift. So begins their day of great change: she will learn to unlock the confidence and ambition she has within, he will learn about the world outside Brentwood.
Written and directed by Brad Silberling ("Moonlight Mile," "A Series of Unfortunate Events"), "10 Items or Less" was filmed in two weeks as something of an experiment in low budget filmmaking. The result is a tight, compact little tale of characters sharing a day. Little happens; the biggest plot turns are a visit to Target (the actor can't believe those prices!) and, later, Scarlet's job interview, which has the nerve to happen off screen.
The big events in these people's lives will happen after the credits; we are watching the seeds of change being planted, but we will never see them sprout. But that can be a good thing, as Scarlet and the actor are so mismatched yet so well in tune with each other that watching them spend a day has a pleasant tone to it all. There is great joy to be had in watching Morgan Freeman discover the little wonders of everyday life - a trip to the car wash, a visit to Arby's.
The film is an exercise in efficiency. The running time is a brisk 82 minutes, and the last twelve of those are for credits and various "cookies" featuring extra footage of the various everyday folks we met along the way. But consider what Silberling, Freeman, and Vega do in the remaining 70 minutes: they deliver fully developed, endlessly endearing characters, and show us how they grow and discover and reconnect. This is a story about self-discovery, and we manage to see it all happen in a surprisingly compact amount of time. This is a dazzling piece of character study, set to a breezy, charming tone.
Video & Audio
Despite being shot on the cheap, the film looks quite solid in its anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. The soundtrack is offered in Dolby 5.1 and Dolby stereo; both sound good, with the surround track making great use of the movie's extensive musical interludes. Optional English and Spanish subtitles are offered.
Silberling's commentary is pretty much nonstop discussion, all of it valuable, offering detailed insights into the story's origins and its quick production schedule.
"15 Days or Less" is a making-of doc that, at 103 minutes, is actually much longer than the main attraction itself. There's an unbelievable amount of information on display, offering a day-by-day (and almost shot-by-shot) fly-on-the-wall look at the entire shooting schedule. Worth it just to hear Freeman sing "Lollipop" with the crew.
A set of six deleted and extended scenes (20:17 total) are actually worth watching, adding more detail to the story or fun little character moments. (Check out the full Jonah Hill bit!)
"20 Questions or Less" (13:43) is a cute chat between Silberling, Freeman, and Vega (set in Target!). They joke, they kid, they discuss the characters, all in the middle of Target. Fun stuff.
"10 Reasons to Watch 10 Items or Less on DVD" (;50) is a fluffy commercial-thingie for the film in which the stars countdown various reasons to buy the disc. ("No sticky floors... unless, of course, you got sticky floors at home.") "Who Is Him?" (1:18) is a second, longer commercial, this one offering a repeat performance from Alexandra Berardi, the film's "Mop Lady," who explains her brief encounter with the movie star.
A collection of trailers (including one for "10 Items or Less") rounds out the set.
All extras (except for two of the previews) and menus are presented in anamorphic widescreen.
"10 Items or Less" is a lovely little film, rounded out by excellent bonus material. Highly Recommended for a cozy night in.