Although a far different existential crisis than the one faced by the lead in his first film “Free Samples,” Jay Gammill encountered a crossroads while going to film school. As a storyteller, his sensibilities drifted towards the comedic while a desire to be taken more seriously pushed him in the direction of drama, so when it came time to direct his feature debut, he was pleasantly surprised to discover a kindred spirit in screenwriter Jim Beggarly, whom he had met at a film festival and had passed along an idea about a young woman who is surly well beyond years.
“Thankfully, there’s a world where you can make that comedy-drama film,” says Gammill. “It’s like I get to have fun and enjoy it, but I also get to connect with characters, which is why I like watching movies.”
Parked firmly between those two genres, “Free Samples” offers up a “Waiting for Godot”-esque tragicomedy set during this golden age of food trucks, where Jillian, a recent dropout of Stanford Law School ponders her future in between handing out cups of an unidentified frozen dessert for a company trial to a parade of eccentrics, old acquaintances or some combination thereof. Anchored by the reliably radiant Jess Weixler as the taciturn Jillian, the movie’s revolving door of customers and passerbys lends itself to an impressive ensemble that includes Weixler’s “Peter and Vandy” co-star Jason Ritter, Haley Feiffer, Jesse Eisenberg, Matt Walsh, “House of the Devil”’s Jocelin Donahue and Tippi Hedren, who in particular shines as a former actress who knocks some sense into Jillian by describing her own life as a shut-in once she felt her best years were behind her.
Clearly, that’s not the case for either Gammill or Weixler, who recently took the time to talk about “Free Samples” a year removed from its debut at the Tribeca Film Festival on the eve of its day-and-date theatrical and VOD release, reflecting on the unusually smooth way the film came together through friends and the sweaty days they spent on the truck during a short shoot in Los Angeles.