Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

September 18, 2010

New poly-trend movie: The Freebie

Has anyone seen the new indie movie The Freebie? It won kudos at Sundance, opened yesterday in New York, and will open in a smattering of other theaters nationwide in the coming weeks1. The premise: a young couple's sex life has gone dead, so they agree to give each other a one-day pass for sex with outside interests to heat things up. Dramedy ensues. Watch the trailer.

Sounds a lot like Breaking Upwards, except it's set in LA rather than NY. Are trendspotters' antennae going up? Yesterday was National Freebie Day, in case you missed it. The movie's website is called Untie the Knot, and most of that is the Untie the Knot Blog "for couples committed to the Freebie: one night, any partner, no questions asked."

On the site's Planning Your Freebie and Rules pages, I find most of the advice disgusting: sneaky, dishonest, disrespectful. So does Eden M. Kennedy, writing at the feminist site BlogHer:

"The Freebie" and Its Bizarre Self-Help-for-Swingers Web Site

...The producers of the new film The Freebie... would like to give married folk everywhere permission to tuck a condom in their pocket and go hit the bars in search of whatever it is they don't have at home.

...An otherwise happily married couple, played by Katie Aselton (who also wrote and directed the film) and Dax Shepard, dance shyly around the concept of sanctioned infidelity, kind of thinking that it's a stupid idea but also hoping that a couple of one-night stands will shake them out of their sexual doldrums and allow them be grateful for what they already have. The fear, of course, is that sleeping with other people will be the end of their friendship and their marriage. Tension!

...I haven't seen the film, but what I have seen quite a lot of is cheerfully disturbing web site that's been launched in support of the film.

The goal of Untie-TheKnot.com seems to be to create some fun, kooky buzz around the concept of open marriage.... "five must-have items for your special night" (include) concocting a sexy backstory to impress your potential hook-up, and a decent lie to reassure your spouse afterward that "it wasn't all that great".

The site also features some terrible Penthouse Forum-type one-night stand stories, and an advice column by two white-bread, can-do columnists named "Bill and Susie." Bill and Susie are about as subtle as a firehose, and seem blissfully assured that swinging, flinging, and serial polyamory are easy as pie if you drink enough tequila.

Kennedy then offers readers some better advice:

If you really want the security and comfort of a long-term relationship combined with the thrill of shagging that handsome stranger who only comes to town twice a year for business, you might be better off reading polyamory.org or unmarried.org, sites run by people who actually work to maintain healthy open relationships that may or may not include children, and who advise you to do the exact opposite of the Johnny-come-latelys over at Untie-TheKnot.

The REAL rules for so-called "freebies" read more like what the movie is trying to show: Tell the truth. Know yourself. Accept responsibility for your actions. Be strong, be loving, be open, etc.

Ironically, these turn out to be good rules for monogamous relationships as well. Hey! No wonder Bill and Susie couldn't hack it with each other -- they have the combined emotional equilibrium of an sleep-deprived toddler whose parents have a giant collection of porn in the basement.

Read the whole article (Sept. 17, 2010).

The online daily newspaper New Jersey Newsroom reviews the movie today, the morning after it opened:

By Miriam Rinn

Most people nowadays believe that honesty is an essential component of a successful marriage, or indeed of any personal relationship.... In "The Freebie," writer/director and leading actress Katie Aselton takes a dispassionate look at a young California couple who struggle with how much truth to tell to each other and, perhaps, to themselves.

Married for seven years, Darren (Dax Shepard) and Annie (Aselton) live comfortably in a very clean, affluent-looking Los Angeles, sharing conversation and laughter, dinner with friends, walks in the mountains, and all the other cool things that well-situated young people share. The one thing they don't share is sex. For whatever reason, Darren doesn't desire his wife. Is he bored? Is he gay? Is he depressed? We don't know, and Annie doesn't ask. Instead, they come up with a scheme to relight their fire. Each of them will go out, score a one-night stand with a stranger, and return to each other sexually reignited.

Needless to say, this plan goes seriously awry. The viewer is left wondering what made them think it could ever work.... They appear to have established a form of intimacy that includes neither sex nor honesty, but is that possible?

"The Freebie" looks and feels very much like an indie....

...Aselton has constructed "The Freebie" to provoke a series of questions, and thankfully, hasn't provided the answers.... In a way, it's reminiscent of a Woody Allen relationship movie, but without the laughs and without the deep humanism. Aselton's film is shallower in its characterizations, but still engaging with lots of room for discussion and disagreement.

Read the whole review (Sept. 18, 2010).

The ABC News site has a brief interview with leading man Dax Shepard.


So far this is raising my latent conservative hackles about "careless" open relationships and "playing with fire," and it does nothing to allay my fears about what'll happen if any old crappy form of non-monogamy goes mass-market as polyamory. I saw what happened to the open marriage movement in the 1970s, which left a lot of that generation "knowing" that open marriage is just a recipe for disaster. The open marriage movement started out as something much better, but by the time it went mass-market a lot of the people doing it were careless and clueless, and that's all that people now remember. This is not how we want people of the 2020s and 2030s to remember polyamory.

Am I just being paranoid?


1 The production company says (Sept. 15),

We are actually opening in the following markets:

Sept. 17: NYC - The Angelika
Oct. 1: LA - Nuart
Oct. 8: Seattle - Varsity
Oct. 15: Denver - Chez Artiste
Oct. 28: San Francisco - Lumiere
Oct. 28: Berkeley - Shattuck
Nov. 12: Portland OR
Nov. 12: San Diego - at the Ken or Hillcrest
Nov. 12: Philadelphia - Ritz Bourse
...with more to follow.

Keep an eye out and spread the word. If NY & LA are box office successes it will help us open more markets and theatres!




Blogger Desmond Ravenstone said...

Alan, I think your concerns are justified. Whenever a minority identity becomes "chic," there's a risk of being misrepresented and even trivialized. By the same token, we have to be careful not to create too much of a division within the poly community, between so-called "true" and "wannabe" polys -- as I've similarly witnessed within the BDSM community.

September 18, 2010 9:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

BTW word is that "Breaking Upwards" may become a situation comedy. Not sure if that is good or bad from our perspective, though it's surely good for Zoe and partner. If it is, I really need to talk with them about polyamory.

September 18, 2010 11:10 PM  
Blogger Pym said...

Okay, I did watch the trailers to both movies [neither of which I've seen] and the thing that struck me most was the AGE of the characters. Maybe I'm being patronizing but, I'm in my forties, and I STILL have a hard time navigating my relatinships. This was like watching those aforementioned toddlers tackle a master's Shakespeare class. There are so many subtleties, nuances, and emotions that go into the multiple-dimensions of on-monogamous relationships. I think those who can handle the minefields of monogamous marriage, much less poly relationships, at that age are the exceptions, not the rule.

September 19, 2010 11:14 AM  
Blogger Pym said...

Uggs, apologies for my terrible typos above lol Not enough coffee yet this a.m. :O)

September 19, 2010 11:18 AM  
Anonymous Angi said...

I have a similar reaction to this sort of thing, Alan. Reminds me of how I felt reading about "negotiated infidelity" discussed by the woman who wrote that "Sugarbabe" book. On the one hand, I have no desire to be sex-negative, and also no desire to look down on those who do open their relationships in a strictly sexual sense. But what frustrates me is when people think they know what *my* relationships are about, or completely invalidate the fact that what I have with my boyfriend even qualifies as a "relationship," based on non-monogamy getting this kind of portrayal.

September 19, 2010 5:40 PM  
Anonymous Ivo said...

You bring up a good point: if there is a sudden surge in the mainstreaming of non-monogamy, if the poly-curious of all walks suddenly get courageous and start to break out of their closed relationships, having "freebies" and experimenting in general, then all the power to them. But if they start calling whatever they do "polyamory", but a good portion of the experiments fail, then the poly movement may just earn the perception of another failed effort.

A word to organizers: it may be worth getting ready for such a day.

September 20, 2010 4:34 AM  
Blogger 1 said...

The movie does not answer the question if they did go through with it. The movie takes you to the point but ends it before the question is answered. If I had to guess, he did not as he was so made that she did or said she did before she changed her story, and she did. But the viewer is left in the same situation as the spouses, they have to decide to believe or not to believe the story’s based on what they know about the characters. It was a waste of time and I am glad I loaded it off the net and did not pay for this trash.
The characters were not particularly likable, and you want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them saying if you do not have the personality to completely not let this bother you don’t even try it as it will build jealously and devour you. I do not judge alternative life styles and too each his own. But to live the swinger life style and stay married it takes two personalities to separate emotion from physical acts of sex. This is hard if not impossible for many people and is like playing with nitro. It could blow up in your face if you do not know exactly what your doing.

January 08, 2011 5:12 PM  

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