A touching cameo turn by Tippi Hedren is the sole benefit of “Free Samples,” a pathetically inept comedy-drama about a hungover law-school dropout’s humiliating stint in a Los Angeles ice-cream truck, from which she offers vanilla and chocolate soft-serve to various unfunny eccentrics. Despite the presumed efforts of 15 credited exec producers and co-producers, as well as Jesse Eisenberg’s brief appearance as a Stetson-sporting suitor named Tex, director Jay Gammill’s debut feature looks and sounds like a student project. Never mind a sale of this underfunded indie, as “Free Samples” would have a hard time giving itself away.As would-be heroine Jillian, Jess Weixler (“Teeth”) scowls unappealingly through the bulk of the pic, perking up only in scenes opposite Hedren as an aged actress who, using ski poles as crutches, stops by for a chocolate sample and ends up telling her life story. Pic is arguably less excruciating in dramatic scenes, as when Jillian confronts her former beau (Keir O’Donnell), who’s expecting a child with his new g.f. Splotchy widescreen videography looks almost low-def; sound mix is bumpier than a rocky road.
A Film Harvest presentation, in association with New Forum Films. (International sales: Preferred Content, Los Angeles.) Produced by Joseph McKelheer, Eben Kostbar. Executive producers, Michael Potts, Nick Mystrom, Kevin Iwashina. Co-executive producers, Mark Gould, Eric Kramer, John Madden, Tony Mayer, Bill Rothacker, Martin Schmitz, Robert Unger, Michael Van Gilder, Richard Wham. Co-producers, Cory Knauf, Jay Gammill, Jim Beggarly. Directed by Jay Gammill. Screenplay, Jim Beggarly.
Camera (color, HD, widescreen), Reed Morano; editors, Franklin Peterson, Gammill; music, Eric Elbogen; production designer, Jefferey Givens; art director, Julie Ziah; costume designer, Alisha Silverstein. Reviewed at Tribeca Film Festival (Spotlight), April 20, 2012. Running time: 80 MIN.
Jess Weixler, Halley Feiffer, Jesse Eisenberg, Jason Ritter, Tippi Hedren, Wendy Shapero, Keir O'Donnell, Whitney Able, Jocelin Donahue.