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Fremont review — new Jeremy Allen White movie is romantic and stirring

Closing EIFF 2023, Babak Jalali's romance movie Fremont is a unique effort with singular vision, off-beat humor, and Jeremy Allen White as a lovable mechanic.

Anaita Wali Zada in Fremont

Our Verdict

This romantic drama is an obscure black-and-white daydream that occasionally turns into a nightmare.

If you ever feel as if the slice-of-life character piece is dying, visit a film festival and have a piece of work like Fremont set you straight. A festival is one of the few remaining places people will unironically sit down for a slug-paced black-and-white picture about a woman who, throughout her own film, barely speaks.

It’s where you’re met with new movies that purposefully bore, confuse, or piss you off — the sort people joke about on TikTok, pointing at the self-seriousness and overindulgence associated with filmmakers like Terrence Malick. Aren’t they wonderful?

Fremont is wonderful. Largely to due leading actor Anaita Wali Zada, who inhabits a hollowed-out shell of a character whom you at once feel you’ve met a million times before yet don’t know at all — a stranger on the street whose interiority you can never truly touch.

Jeremy Allen White in Fremont

Donya (Zada), a twenty-something Afghan who moved to California after serving as a translator for the U.S. Army, spends her life at the fortune cookie factory she works at. Her nights are insomnia-laden as she battles with her longing to rebuild her life and the burdensome shame she holds for being a “traitor” to her people. After a suggestion from her oddball psychiatrist, she writes her phone number into a cookie and sends it out to the world, inviting much-needed connection.

Being the slice-of-life picture it is, Fremont isn’t about anything, really. It contemplates loneliness, war, and the vulnerability of falling in love without fully holding on to any of them. Whether this is authentic to the fleeting human experience or blow-your-brains-out-tedious is up to your mileage for these kinds of endeavors.

If you find yourself swept up in quiet character drama, the likes found in Claire’s Camera or the Before trilogy, you might find this to be a subtle yet incisive feature that does most of its leg work without calling too much attention to itself.

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It feels almost radical to make something like this an age where the best streaming services are telling creatives something big has to happen in the opening seconds of their TV series to prevent iPhone-scrolling viewers from clicking away. It’s not radical; these movies are being quietly made by independent filmmakers from all walks of life. But it does feel that way. Or, perhaps I’m watching too many back-to-back, plotty blockbusters with no break in-between.

Contemplative and slow — at times, challengingly slow — Jalali as a director is far more concerned with the inner workings of Fremont’s characters and small moments of honesty that force their way to the surface than he is traditional structure.

In fact, the rather jarring ending of Fremont might have had people waiting around for a post-credit stinger if this were a different kind of film. But its rough-around-the-edge narrative composition and non-committal attitude to circling any idea for too long may be a point in itself.


The humor helps stave off fidgeting and boredom. Fremont is weirdly funny. Awkward jokes, tense small-talk, and Donya’s deadpan disposition (which often oscillates between intense shyness and concise confidence) come out of nowhere, and are all the better for it. In a film so visually and narratively bleak at times, the comedy cuts through Fremont’s still waters beautifully.

The script is also rather brilliant at quickly moving through tones. Dramatic scenes quickly become giggle-inducing and vice-versa. Fremont is subdued in nature, which makes the emotional bleed-through that rarely escapes Donya’s shackled physicality all the more chest-tightening to watch.

It also lends itself to the deft character work. As mentioned, Donya is not the talkative type, but her mysterious headspace is alluded to with just enough tact that you feel you understand her well by the end of the story but could still be surprised by her words or playful actions.


She holds her cards close, so Zada has the challenging job of mostly playing Donya as opaque but with just enough insight in her face and body language to express the immense inner turmoil, and sometimes joy, she experiences.

When she sends out her personal fortune cookie, opening up a place in her heart that has been suppressed, she embarks on a road trip. That’s where we meet the humble mechanic Daniel (The Bear cast‘s Jeremy Allen White). Those familiar with White’s high-energy work in the likes of Shameless will likely find his quieter, what-you-see-is-what-you-get turn here delightful, and he’s utilized to the fullest extent in the third act.

Where most may find something to complain about is in Fremont’s closing. While the grounded approach in the storytelling is human and real, there are threads that weren’t fully mined which invites the risk of the audience coming away unsatisfied.

Gregg Turkington in Fremont

Of course, in real life, our problems aren’t wrapped up in a neat sub-two-hours, but in a character-piece such as this, there’s a yearning for some sort of conclusion to be offered, while Fremont ends in a way that makes it feel like half a story in some respects.

Luckily, Fremont is deft and sweet enough to delight the filmgoers most primed for its Jarmuschian musings, and if Zada isn’t catching eyes in Hollywood after this, there’s something wrong with it (beyond the obvious).

Fremont opens in limited theaters in the U.S. on August 25, 2023, and on September 1 in the UK.

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For more of the best drama movies and best romance movies, look through our team’s list of the best movies of all time. And for more EIFF coverage, see our Chuck Chuck Baby interview with Janis Pugh. We also have The Bear season 3 release date to look forward to.