Of Cock Socks and Cameos: Quirk Comes of Age in Tribeca Premiere Free Samples

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The easiest way to start an interview is to ask someone, "Was there a cock sock or not?" Take Jason Ritter, who plays Wally, the sub-par musician friend of Jillian (Jess Weixler), in Free Samples — which premiered last weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival in the Spotlight program. "It was cock sock," Ritter said, marking the second time Ritter appeared pantsless in a Tribeca film costarring Jesse Eisenberg. "[Before] was The Education of Charlie Banks, but this one was the first time I've been bare-assed for an entire scene."

Meanwhile, the new film's plot is simple enough: Jillian gets roped into handing out free ice cream samples from a truck as a variety of characters weave in and out of the scene. Samples acts as a counter-point to the classic indie slacker story, as the characters deal with having plans that fall apart — Jillian was in law school and had a fiancé before deciding to "become an artist" — as Ritter plays "Jason Ritter" in Mark Webber's Sundance film The End of Love, portraying an established, mature version of his actor persona.

"I feel like there are a lot of movies about late 20s, early 30s being directionless and you wonder, 'How are any of these people surviving?'" Ritter said. "What do they do? I really like that there does seem to be more thought put into this character Jillian. It's been fun to jump in and do a day here and a day there on each of their films."

Just when it seemed like we were getting to the heart of the film's subject, alas, Ritter complicated things by revealing how he'd blacked out the memory of Weixler slapping his ass.

"Did you?" he asked.

"I did smack you on the ass, it's in the movie," Wexler replied. "I barely remember doing it either. It just went into some black hole. I'm sure it was great at the time."

"Just like Levar Burton on the slave ship in Roots," Ritter said. "He doesn't remember it at all. That's true, by the way. He doesn't remember shooting the slave ship sequences in Roots,"

"It's the same thing as Roots then," Weixler concurred as her castmate and confidante was shuttled off to another interview. So Free Samples is the food truck of equivalent of Roots then? "I guess so, according to Jason Ritter," she said.

While that could be taken any number of ways, it's just as well to ignore it. Although being in a single location for the 12-day shoot gave Weixler the mood for being hungover, she kept a clear vision of the character's overarching traits in mind. "What I made very clear to myself when I went into the role that it wasn't a slacker role," she told Movieline. "This is somebody who has been very ambitious her whole life. She was really on course and now she doesn't know why she was doing what she was doing."

It's the type of role that's weird to see, since — as both Ritter and Weixler alluded — hungover slackers have been the film festival norm for the better part of two decades. Say what you want about Free Samples overall, but there seems to be an obvious tonal shift among indies when it comes to growing up and moving on. (Other Tribeca 2012 films like Consuming Spirits and Any Day Now investigate this as well.)

But there are more functional questions for director Jay Gammill and co-star Jocelin Donahue — like why does Upright Citizen's Brigade co-founder Matt Walsh appear to condemn food trucks that can't give him stamps? And what's up with the vignette nature of the film that continues on until Tippi Hedren appears to console Weixler?

It ultimately comes down to the whims of shooting and editing. "As a director, I'm concerned with how we're going to pull that off every time," Gammill said. "What could be a weakness we have to make our strength. It was fun to cast a wide variety of people from different backgrounds. I think every person had their own unique performance."

The same duality lies in art vs. practicality, since both sides are shown to be equally screwed up in Jim Beggarly's script.

"I think that's one of the major themes," said Donahue. "How do you choose your path when you desire to do something more creative than the more conventional path?"

"What do you base your choices on?" asked Gammill. "Does your family push you into it?"

That's getting a little heady over uneven ensemble comedy, but the sentiment resonates: Free Samples represents a shift that may end the days of freewheeling indies in favor of growing up. Especially if it includes a cock sock.

Read all of Movieline's Tribeca 2012 coverage here.

John Lichman has written for The Playlist, Washington City Paper and does a fine Armond White impression. He tweets here.



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