Review: Reality takes a toll in ‘Free Ride’

Anna Paquin and Cam Gigandet in "Free Ride."
(Phase 4 Films)

Movies based on a filmmaker’s own life story can be a slippery slope. Events may not always seem as interesting to outsiders as they were — and obviously still are — to the actual participants, while more dramatic license than what was taken is often needed to craft a stronger filmic narrative.

Such is the case of “Free Ride,” a family drama written and directed by Shana Betz about a period in the late-1970s when Betz’s single mother became a drug runner. The result, while sincere and nicely evoked, feels choppy, familiar and, despite the script’s heavily stacked deck — and a few harrowing episodes — lacks sufficient momentum.

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Anna Paquin stars as Christina, a game Ohioan who leaves behind abusive boyfriends and crummy jobs for sunny Fort Lauderdale along with her daughters, budding teenager MJ (Liana Liberato) and 7-year-old Shell (Ava Acres, re-creating Betz). Decent work is promised down Florida way by Christina’s old go-go dancer friend, Sandy (Drea de Matteo). But a quick stint as a housekeeper just proves an audition for the real gig: assisting in a lucrative pot smuggling operation.


That Christina sees this illegal work as a way — the only way? — to provide for her kids isn’t strong enough to justify the character’s often poor mothering, shady choices and flexible standards. If Betz wanted us to embrace her party-friendly mom as much as she does (the filmmaker calls her “the coolest, most beautiful light in the world”), she inherently falls short. It’s no fault of Paquin’s, however; though a bit young-looking for the part, she’s quite good.


‘Free Ride’

MPAA rating: None


Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.

Playing: At Arena Cinema, Hollywood.