10 Items Or Less (2006) was a joyful watch

I can vaguely remember this making a splash as an indie darling when it first came out, with the buzz being split between the marketing gimmick of Morgan Freeman doing something quirky and the marketing gimmick of being officially available online at the same time it was in the cinema. It got a reasonable amount of sofa-based interview TV, made some noise as “a touching, romantic comedy”, and then dropped out of view. So when we picked it for viewing, based mostly on the title but also because of Morgan Freeman, and had very little expectations as to what would happen next.

What happened next was very little, in a very pleasing way. Writer and director Brad Silberling made the very smart decision of keeping the film down to 82 minutes, and less than a dozen scenes. Morgan Freeman is essentially a stylised version of himself, an actor doing research for an upcoming role in a supermarket. Paz Vega is Scarlett, a cashier in the supermarket who Morgan becomes enthralled with so ends up spending the day with. They go to her ex-partner’s home, a different supermarket, a carwash, they eat lunch on the grass, Scarlett has a job interview, and then she drives Morgan home for them to part ways.

The biggest “twist” in the film is that we find out what Freeman is enthralled by, and apparently, genuinely interested in, everyone. This is presented as something that actors are, because it helps them with their acting, but also as a genuinely positive thing. He tells people doing ordinary, mundane things how fascinating what they are doing is and want to learn from them. This makes everyone instantly warm to him, partly because they are starstruck and partly because it’s just nice to have someone think you and what you do are special.

Countering this is Scarlett’s reality. She’s in a crappy economic situation, and whilst she is trying her best to get out of it she represents the voice in your head going “well, that’s nice for him to be nice but It doesn’t change anything”. No cynical, just realistic. And that’s vital because she doesn’t change over the course of the film so much as sees a new, slightly warmer, realistic approach to life. Freeman doesn’t fix anything, he just shows people a better way to look at themselves whilst never denying the situation they exist in.

As it’s a film about being an actor getting ready to make a film, there are moments when you’d be forgiven for being worried that it’s going to become some wanky bit of self-congratulatory meta-text. Thankfully, it avoids that by positioning Freeman as just that bit enough out-of-touch to be flawed and with just enough self-awareness of his privilege and shortcomings to not be a magical-actor saving the working poor. It also throws in just enough ambiguity as to how certain things pan out to keep it interesting and keeps the romance on the platonic side.

“Did I leave the gas on?2

This is a feel-good movie that doesn’t try to pretend that everything is great or that things will turn out okay. It just reminds you that attitude, perspective and You as an individual are important. It doesn’t have any agenda beyond that, and it manages to be a Treasure of a film as a result. I’m not sure how much re-watchability it has, but as a one-shot, alt-pop-positivity easy ride it does the job it sets out to do and lands perfectly. And, if nothing else, Morgan Freeman is mesmerising every moment he’s on-screen, which is the majority of its running time.

The Raggedyman

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