Jason C. Stanley

ponderings of a dad walking humbly & seeking justice

Free Samples (2012)

Free SamplesThis low-budget, independant film from director Jay Gammill is a simple film. This may turn some off. But simple is exactly what was right for this story. Jillian (Jess Weixler) is a law school drop-out, struggling to figure out who she is. We don’t know exactly how long she has been on this journey. But we are witnesses to what a difference a day can make.

In the opening scene, we glean an understanding of who Jillian is. In a word: a drunk. She is sitting at a bar with her friends Nancy (Halley Feiffer) and Wally (Jason Ritter). Wally seems to be a burnt out young man, who, like Jillian, is not certain where he is going in his life. Nancy, on the other hand, seems to be the grounded one.

There is a fourth character at the bar. Tex, who is outstandingly portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg. Tex and Jillian seem to be hitting it off. In the next scene, Jillian awakes finding Tex’s cowboy hat lying on the bed next to her. Nancy rushes in to wake her and ask her to do a favor for her. Nancy and her parents are holding an intervention for her drug abusing brother.

While Nancy is at the intervention, Jillian is working for her at “Mike’s Dream,” an ice cream food-truck. All she has to do is give out free samples. While a simple task, it proves to be interesting, mostly because she is hung over from the night before.  A wide-range of people come through to get free samples. One is a homeless woman. After some time bantering, Jillian gives her money and asks her to go get her a cup of coffee. The woman takes the money and leaves.

Nancy’s drug abusing brother comes by looking for his sister. Jillian tries to suggest, without giving it away, that he should go to his apartment, which is where his family is waiting for him. She finally has to tell him what’s going on. A little discouraged about it, he considers not going to his apartment. Jillian simply says, “I want you to go home and do whatever is best for you.”

Jillian (Jess Weixler) listens as Tex (Jesse Eisenberg) shares a childhood story.

Jillian (Jess Weixler) listens as Tex (Jesse Eisenberg) shares a childhood story.

Tex also comes by. He’s dressed very different than the night before. He is now in a suit. We learn that his real name is Albert and the nickname Tex was given to him the night before because he was wearing a cowboy hat. He is wearing a thesis in literature and he did not take advantage of drunk Jillian. She slept under the sheets and he slept on top of the sheets. Tex comes by to schedule a dinner date with Jillian, something that she accepts.

The most notable person to come by is Betty. Betty is an aging movie star who is resisting a move into an assisted-living center. She gets ice cream and Jillian and her sit in lawn chairs discussing life. She shares with Jillian, “I could never let them see me like this.”

As a side note, legendary actress Tippi Hedren, famous for her role as Melanie Daniels in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, plays Betty. Tippi’s performance is incredible. While we are glad when Jesse Eisenberg shows up on the screen, we rejoice with merriment when Tippi Hedren joins the story-line.

This day of handing out free samples is a kind of intervention for Jillian. She gains new perspective on her personal problems. She begins to reach a place where she acknowledges that her life will never be what she thought it would be. But it can be what it will be. None more so than when she interacts with Betty. When Betty enters into the film, there is a noticeable change in Jillian. And it seems to make a difference.

Nancy shows up at the end of the day to pick Jillian up. Nancy reports that her brother finally showed up and that she never got to read her letter. Her brother shared that he had a good talk with Jillian and decided that he was ready to go to rehab. As they are about to pull out of the parking lot, the crazy homeless lady shows up beating her drum. And she brings Jillian a cup of coffee.

Jillian has started to see that the world is not as wasted as she thought it was. And neither is her life. It is clear that Jillian now has a hope that she did not have when the film began. She and Tex go to Mexican for dinner that night. She has a beer. He does not. He says to her, “People will do a lot for you if you put the beer bottle down and let them.”

Jillian has received a lot of truth throughout her day. But Tex is the first to say to her, “Give up this and gain everything.” What has ben holding her back from living the life she has has been her drinking.  Give it up and you will see that we are here to help you.

In what I think is hands-down the best scene in the film, Jillian takes a nacho chip, breaks it in half, and says, “Okay. Let’s see what you got.”

She is saying that she is accepting Tex’s invitation to help her. But the act of breaking the nacho chip brings to mind the breaking of the bread in the ritual of Holy Communion. As we break the bread, we are saying, “Okay. Let’s see what you got,” to Christ. When we participate in the Eucharist we are accepting an invitation from Christ to be in the midst of our lives and opening our hearts to Him.

1 Comment

  1. a tweet from the director of FREE SAMPLES, Jay Gammill:
    Jay Gammill @jaygammill
    @jasoncstanley thx for this. your interpretation of Jillian’s transformation & hope in a new life speaks to why I loved making this film!

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