Movies that stick to one location for the bulk of their running time present a challenge, as it's easy for viewers to get bored being stuck in the same place with the characters. Many pull it off with the right dialogue and situations, and while I've seen some movies which did this and bored me, I can't remember any of their titles. I do remember the good ones, such as The Breakfast Club or Clerks. Starting out watching Free Samples I feared it would be a bit of a drag, but was pleasantly surprised in the end.
It all starts when our heroine Jillian (Jess Weixler) is woken up by her friend Nancy (Halley Feiffer), hung over and having slept at Nancy's place after a night with her and others at the local bar. Jillian was pursuing a law degree at Stanford but is taking a break from that and a relationship to hang out in Los Angeles seeing if an artistic career might suit her better. Nancy tells Jillian that she needs a "huge favor" from her- to man the Mike's Dream ice cream truck for a few hours while Nancy goes to a family meeting. The truck is parked in a nondescript lot somewhere in Los Angeles, and the owner is trying out a new type of ice cream and giving free samples to everyone all day. All Jillian has to do there is serve the ice cream to people- they can choose either vanilla or chocolate but not both and limited to one per person, and she's asked to get customers to fill out comment cards while they're there also. Jillian isn't too thrilled about this, telling Nancy "I've never hated anyone more than I hate you right now." Not only is she not fully awake yet but she can't even have her morning coffee as there's no place nearby to get any. Although she's put her relationship with boyfriend Danny on hold, she intends to call him with birthday greetings but her cell phone has gone dead.
Yes, that's pretty much the whole plot right there and the parking lot is where most of the action stays, but enough happens here that we aren't tempted to wander down the street instead. As the day passes she gets a number of interesting customers- some just ask her too many personal questions, some make ridiculous requests for things an ice cream truck would never sell like stamps, a few are just happy to get some free ice cream and don't cause her any pain. I laughed at all of these because many of them reminded me of folks I interacted with either in person or on the phone at the number of past jobs I've had- you really encounter some truly interesting people when you work with the public. In fact, as a customer I usually try to be extra nice to those who serve me, especially when they're giving me something for free, as I know they probably aren't having too much fun themselves or even being paid enough for being there. But as there are some truly irritating customers in real life, inevitably others come along that make the whole workday worthwhile- here Jillian gets a few random acts of kindness and bonds with one regular customer (played by Tippi Hedren, who gets billing on the front cover), a retired film star with stories about her past which get Jillian thinking about what she really wants from life. Nancy's slacker friend Wally (Jason Ritter) also drops by for some comic relief, as does Albert (Jesse Eisenberg, playing another typically intellectual character), who also ended up crashing at Nancy's place the night before and is now trying to get Jillian to go out with him.
The 2.35 picture looks about on par for a standard-def DVD, looking a bit soft compared to HD but no obvious compression artifacts and natural colors.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital mix keeps most sound in the center with the left and right being noticeable during Eric Elbogen's music score. There is some ambient sound in the rears but you have to put your ears up to the speakers to tell it's there.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
All that is included besides the movie are trailers for Shanghai Calling and Pawn Shop Chronicles.
Free Samples is a simple film but a pleasant way to spend 80 minutes. I certainly identified with many of the situations and anyone else who works with the public likely will also. Those who demand tons of action in every movie probably won't be able to sit still for this, but those who can should find plenty to like about it.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.