10 Items or Less is a 2006 film starring Morgan Freeman and the beautiful Paz Vega in which Vega plays Scarlett, a disillusioned woman who is dissatified with her marriage, fears that she will never be able to bare children, and appears destined to work the express line at her local supermarket in her barrio in perpetuity. That is until Morgan Freeman, a charismatic actor who is researching a role for an upcoming film, befriends Vega's character and leads her on a journey whereby she uncovers a once dorment inner strength and becomes convinced that the scope of her life does not have to be as narrow as the 10 items or less line that she mans daily.
In a seminal moment in the film, Freeman and Vega are sitting on Vega's yellow Hugo, enjoying an Arby's roast beef sandwich, before Vega is scheduled to interview for a construction job that to her promises higher wages and more freedom to pursue her dreams. Prior to this scene, Freeman has escorted Vega on a mini journey in which he took her shopping at Target for new clothes and make-up and to a local car wash to give her bucket a much needed scrubbing.
As they sit parked at a dead end, overloooking an oil refinery, Freeman asks Vega to name 10 things that she could do without. Vega mentions her husband, constantly needing money, and her 10 items or less line amongst other things. Freeman then asks Vega to name 10 things that she couldn't live without. She mentions her nephew, her jet black hair when it's wet, and not asking for directions (she is forced to swallow her pride on this point later in the film).
There were several elements of 10 Items or Less that stood out as being poignant to me.
The first was the breath-taking beauty of Vega juxtaposed against her character's weathered face. At 25, her character's face looked 10 years older due to the daily rigors and stresses of juggling a 9 to 5 job against deferred hopes and dreams.
The secod was the narrative associated with racial minorities acting as saviors to one another. Freeman, eho is African-American, serves as a mentor to Vega, who is Mexican. This de-constructs the typical Hollywood narrative in which the lowly minority subject is saved by the benevolent white (usually female) hero. Recent movies such as The Blind Side and Precious immediately come to mind. The pairing of a black man with a latina serves to dissolve the perceived socio-economic relationship between blacks and latinos in which the media traditionally portrays the two groups (two very diverse groups that in many places share a common ancestry) as competing for the scraps of the dominant culture.
Most importantly, and like most films with an altruistic, self-discovery theme, 10 Items or Less forced me to think of 10 things in my own life that I could do without and 10 things that I absolutely couldn't imagine not having. Below is my attempt at a 10 items or less list ( as an addendum, what is it with Morgan Freeman and movies about lists in his older age - see The Bucket List)
10 Things That I Could Do Without
10. Cell phone service in the subway.
9. Student loans/ bills
8. Cable news shows
7. Dumb people
5. 9-5 jobs
4. Social networking websites
3. Relationships (dating/marriage)
10 Things That I Absolutely Couldn't Live Without
10. Sports (baseball)
8. Smart, beautiful women
7. Law and Order
5. The written word
3. My mother (and her cooking)