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Katie Aselton and Dax Shepard play a couple who aim to rekindle their spark by each having a one-time-only fling with someone else.
Katie Aselton and Dax Shepard play a couple who aim to rekindle their spark by each having a one-time-only fling with someone else.

Q&A

The freebie one-night stand - is it a bad idea or relationship saver? Add to ...

They are words every wife fears: "I want you to know I still get major boners for you. They're just snuggle boners now."

But it's sadly how Darren feels about Annie in The Freebie, a new film about a pair who'll take Scrabble over nookie in the seventh year of their marriage.

Dissatisfied and desperate to whip some excitement back into their union, Annie (played by Katie Aselton) and Darren (Dax Shepard) agree to an unusual experiment: Each gets to have a one-night stand with no repercussions.

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Completely improvised from a six-page outline, the film premieres Friday in New York and next month in Canada. Ms. Aselton, 31, wrote, directed and co-produced the film, and spoke with The Globe and Mail from her home in Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband of four years and her two-year-old daughter.

Annie and Darren play lots of games including crossword puzzle races in bed. The freebie seems like a game too. They pick potential lovers out for each other. On the night of the deed, they ask each other: 'Are you ready?'

There is a competitive spirit between the two of them. They use games as distractions from the actual issue at hand. It's what people in our generation tend to do - make light of everything. This time they play a game that doesn't really work out for them as well.

They seem to be out on dates all the time and have strong chemistry. Are some couples just more platonic than others?

It's a comfort level you achieve when you're living under the same roof for five, seven, 10 years. You have a tendency to turn into roommates. It's very easy to get in the rut of a routine at night, whether that's doing crossword puzzles or watching a movie to fall asleep or burying your noses in your books. Passion is one of the things that can fall through the cracks quite easily. It's not to say that every one of those couples is doomed - I think it's a common stage. You can come of that out in different ways, although people do have a tendency to exist in that.

Darren's terrified that he'll never have sex with another woman again, let alone see another woman naked again. This is a different issue than sexual malaise in a marriage, right?

It certainly is. You gain so much with marriage but what you do give up is that feeling of newness when you meet someone and you're single and can explore. There's that chemical spark and you're wondering, 'Is he going to kiss me? Am I going to kiss him? Oh my God, he just brushed my shoulder, that feels so amazing.' That goes away and I think it's right to mourn that a little bit.

Darren wishes he'd gotten all of his sexual kinks out before marriage. Do people ever get it all out of their system?

No, I think you'll always walk through life being stimulated and excited by other people. Certain things will catch your eye. I don't know if monogamy is natural, but it is a choice.

In trying to rationalize the freebie to her prudent big sister Jess, Annie argues that sleeping with other people might remind them of what they had when they started dating. How does a random bartender remind a wife of what her husband means to her?

It's the grass-is-always-greener thing. I think the justification for the characters is that they're going to be so happy that they can come home to each other after experiencing this and remind each other that being single and being in the bar scene isn't all it's cracked up to be. It's so awful to sit alone at the bar.

How is the freebie different than an open relationship or swinging?

The difference is that they agreed it would only be one night, versus saying this is how it's always going to be.

Annie and Darren make up their own rules as they go along here.

Truthfully, if you're going to go about doing this, you have to do it on the terms that will make you comfortable, even if that means setting down a bajillion ground rules.

Proponents of open relationships also stress a seemingly endless amount of rules - things like no sleepovers, no emotional affairs, talking it out before and after and pre approving the other lovers.

That's so many more rules than monogamy where it's just like, don't do it. It's so much easier! I would forget a rule and mess up and be in trouble.

Do you know couples who've done the freebie thing?

I've never, but I have known someone in an open relationship.

Jess tells Annie that the freebie is a terribly dumb idea, that her emotions will inevitably 'get wild.' How does jealousy fit into this experiment?

I don't know if it's jealousy so much as the trust factor. It's a territorial thing. It's all so sticky in there.

So is this a cautionary tale?

No, it's more a story of these two people who are so overly confident and arrogant that they think they've evolved enough to take this on and come out better for it.

Annie and Darren spend the entire film sipping coffee, shopping at vegetable markets, eating ice cream or talking about sex at dinner parties. They're millennials with no careers to speak of and no babies in sight. Do you think freebies and open relationships are an indulgence tested out by these kinds of people?

They definitely work - we're seeing them over a series of weekends - but it's also a couple that has too much time on their hands. It's an overtinkering. They're trying to fix something that's not particularly that broken, fiddling with things and scratching at scabs.

Is this kind of over tinkering another element to the protracted adolescence of this generation?

A little bit, I think. It's also power play. There really is a judgmental element to Annie and Darren, where they think they're the best couple at the dinner party and they pat each other on the back for having this incredibly open, honest relationship. It comes out of an arrogance.

Is it enough for some couples to allow each other the 'freedom' of an open relationship - without ever acting on it - to spice things up? Can the illusion of having an open relationship be enough for some to deal with the pressure of monogamy?

Truthfully, we're all sort of in that position whether we want to be or not. Your fate is in your own hands. In every relationship, someone can make a turn at any point and walk out of it.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

Follow on Twitter: @ZosiaBielski

 

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