Only Morgan Freeman could make a grown man going ga-ga over the prices on a T-shirt at Target worth watching. Then again, only Morgan Freeman could redefine what it means to provide voiceover narration for a movie. The man is a living legend, and if you can’t appreciate what Morgan Freeman brings to cinema, you should be shot and executed and then thrown off a bridge. Having said that, Morgan Freeman makes “10 Items or Less” one of the best movies I’ve seen all year, and it’s a shame the film hasn’t gotten its due since hitting limited release in 2006. Fortunately for us, DVD is here to save the day. Trust me, pick this one up at Blockbusters.
“10 Items or Less” opens in abrupt fashion, with an unnamed famous actor (Morgan Freeman) in a dingy van on his way to a grocery store somewhere in the inner city to do research for his latest role, a grocery store manager. But as the actor reminds us, this doesn’t mean he’s committed to the film (he hasn’t done a movie in four years — on his own accord, he also assures us). At a sleepy grocery store, the actor meets feisty check out girl Scarlet (Spanish actress Paz Vega), who is in a hurry to leave for a job interview, her old job having become untenable with the rival check-out girl sleeping with the boss — who also happens to be her ex-husband. (As soon as she can afford the divorce, anyway.) As fate would have it, the two end up on the road together.
The scene at the Target comes at around the thirty minute mark, and is one of many reasons to give “10 Items or Less” a chance. It is representative of the movie as a whole — it is unforced and played with subtle assuredness by Freeman, and directed similarly by TV writer/director Brad Silberling. Like its unnamed main character, “10 Items or Less” is a charmer, the kind of film that seamlessly slips into your life and stays there, and when it’s time for him to leave, you wish he would stay just a little bit longer because you’ve enjoyed his presence so much.
While Freeman undoubtedly carries the film, Paz Vega makes an impression. In only her second American movie, Vega still struggles with her accent, which somewhat hinders the actress. To her credit, Vega still brings welcome vulnerability to the role, as well as an easy likeability. Scarlet appears to have a harden shell, but only because life has not turned out as she expected, and she feels, at just 25 years old, that this may already be her last hurrah. It is something that the actor understands all too well despite their vast age difference. Why hasn’t he done a movie in over four years, despite having plenty of offers? Because he, too, feels that his best has already passed him by, and like Scarlet, he is now simply treading water, hoping not to drown.
Befitting writer/director Brad Silberling’s pedigree in TV, “10 Items or Less” unavoidably has a slight episodic feel to it, as if a movie consisting of three separate episodes. The first takes place in the oddball world of the grocery store, a place I wouldn’t have mind the film staying longer. The second episode is all about the actor, as he re-discovers a world he has left behind to pursue fame and stardom. In yet another amusing scene, the actor attempts to make his way home from the grocery store, but has no car; he tries to call his house, but has forgotten his home phone number; and a call to his agent results in the revelation that he doesn’t know what day it is. And finally, the third episode is all about Scarlet and Paz Vega, which is not a bad way to close out the day.
“10 Items or Less” is Morgan Freeman’s movie. He’s a producer on the film, and as the lead actor, carries it with effortless ease. The film works because Freeman wants it to work; it’s as simple as that. Paz Vega, while undoubtedly a talented actress, struggles to match Freeman’s presence, but she does well enough that I wouldn’t mind seeing her in more movies. As her English improves, and she becomes less conscious of it, I’m sure her performances will improve as well. The film really is just about the two of them, and everyone and everything else are background noise. There are also no silly romantic entanglements between the two leads, which is as it should be. There’s nothing worst than Hollywood trying to jam a forced romance down our throats.
The film ends on a bittersweet note, with Scarlet driving the actor back to his home in Brentwood. It’s a long and somber trip that stretches into the night, and Silberling allows the sequence to play at its own unhurried pace. The camera simply follows Scarlet’s beloved beat-up car as it treks from one part of the city to another. Although the actor insists they can be friends long after the day is done, they are both quick to acknowledge that Yes, they will probably never see each other again. They share many things, but their very different worlds have been bridged by fate, and it simply won’t hold. And so, as they say their goodbyes, and while it is quite melancholy, it is also natural, and somehow, right.
Brad Silberling (director) / Brad Silberling (screenplay)
CAST: Morgan Freeman … Him
Paz Vega … Scarlet
Jonah Hill … The Kid
Alexandra Berardi … Mop Lady
Bobby Cannavale … Bobby
Anne Dudek … Other Checker
Jennifer Echols … Tracy with an E