Free Ride (2013) / Drama-Thriller

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but would be R for drug content, sexuality and language
Running Time:87 min.

Cast: Anna Paquin, Liana Liberato, Cam Giganget, Drea de Matteo, Yvette Yates, Ava Acres, Jeff Hephner, Brit Mogan, John Kapelos
Director: Shana Betz
Screenplay: Shana Betz

Review published January 13, 2014

Set in 1977, Anna Paquin (X-Men 2, X-Men the Last Stand), who also serves the film as a producer, stars as Christina, a single Ohio mother who has fled to Florida with her two daughters in tow in order to get away from her abusive ex.  Christina's friend Sandy (de Matteo, Farce of the Penguins) has promised her a job as a housecleaner, but tells her that there is more responsibility, and more money, in store if her drug-trafficking employer likes her work. Knowing this is her best shot for a fresh start for her and her kids, Christina works hard at gaining her boss's trust, and her new country home is the temporary resting site for massive bales of marijuana coming through.

Free Ride marks the first feature-length film as writer and director for former actress Shana Betz, who bases the movie on her own real-life experiences as the youngest of the two daughters, Shell (Acres, Jobs).  Betz dedicates the film to her mother, who did what she thought she had to do to take care of her daughters.  In addition to the danger of Christina's occupation, Free Ride also tells the story of her tumultuous relationship with MJ (Liberato, Erased), her rebellious teenage daughter who is just learning about boys, drugs and a desire for independence.  Much of the friction comes when mother is away for extended periods of time on boats smuggling weed, while MJ is reluctant to look after Shell when she could be exploring much more fun things to do.

While Free Ride benefits from a nice cast, sense of period, and Betz' confidence as a director, many audiences will likely have a hard time connecting to the material, which seems personal and not particularly compelling enough to make for a worthwhile feature film to a general audience.  In the non-judgmental way that Betz tells her story, we're offered little in terms of inner turmoil Christina must have gone through in the risks she takes to earn a living.  Does she think she's being a good mother because she's taking home fat wads of cash, while abandoning them for long periods to participate in an illegal operation?  Or, is she attracted to the thrill of the crime, and the wild, drug-filled parties?  Outside of her justification that she does it for her daughters ("We do what we have to do in order to do what we want to do"), echoed in the film's closing moments in which Betz' real-life mom voices her opinion on the matter, the films doesn't delve particularly deep.

Free Ride is a rose-colored glasses look at the writer-director's childhood about a mother she views as some sort of hero, but we all have a parent or two who worked hard in order to put food on the table, and many of them didn't abandon us for long periods in order to smuggle drugs into the country to keep lavish, ornate roofs over the heads of murderous drug lords.  Betz probably thinks it is a cool thing for a mom to have done in her past, at least from an anecdotal standpoint, but fails to translate this into a reason why we in the audience should think her mom is anything worth creating a movie about.

Qwipster's rating

2014 Vince Leo