Movie review: “Ten Items or Less”

The quirky independent film Ten Items or Less (2006) stars Morgan Freeman as an actor who remains nameless throughout the movie and is referred to in the credits merely as “Him”, and Paz Vega as a cashier in a small-town convenience store.

It gradually emerges that “He” hasn’t done a movie for a long time, although he has been offered a part in an independent film. However, “He” feels stuck and held back by his fear that he might not be good enough; as he says, “I haven’t committed yet, this is just research” (see trailer).

Seeking some form of inspiration, although it never becomes clear what exactly the planned movie is about (I think he’s supposed to be a store manager or something like that), the cousin of the director drops him off at Archie’s Ranch Market in a poor Latin neighbourhood of Carson, CA.

Inside the convenience store, he notices one of the cashiers, the appropriately named Scarlet (she is fiery and temperamental), who is working in the “10 items or less” queue. Apart from her unique way of ringing up the items, almost without looking at them, she also fearlessly reprimands customers who come to her till with MORE than 10 items, which disconcerts them.

She hates her job, and clearly despises her colleague at the other till, who, it appears, is sleeping with her husband/boyfriend and being quite blatant about it.

The actor starts chatting with her, and interacting with the other people in the shop. When Scarlet’s shift ends in the afternoon, he asks her for a lift. She reluctantly agrees, telling him that she is supposed to be going to a job interview for the position of secretary in a construction company. When he questions her, it emerges that, despite her being a feisty lass on the outside, she lacks the inner confidence actually to GO to the interview.

An unlikely friendship develops between them, as he realises that, even though he feels he has failed as an actor, he nonetheless has the skills to reach out to her and to help her prepare both mentally and physically for the interview. Likewise, she realises that she does not have to be stuck in her dead-end job at the “10 items or less” till, but that she does have the courage to aim higher.

It was a strange little movie; I didn’t know quite what to make of it, and it certainly wasn’t the kind of movie in which I expected to see Morgan Freeman. But it did leave a lingering feeling of cheerfulness!

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