The Rental, 2020.
Directed by Dave Franco.
Starring Dan Stevens, Alison Brie, Sheila Vand, Jeremy Allen White, Toby Huss, and Anthony Molinari.
Two couples rent a vacation home for what should be a celebratory weekend get-away.
While first attempting to rent the remote vacation home, the pair of couples at the center of The Rental are actually denied a weekend stay. Middle Eastern Mina (Sheila Vand) fills out the digital paperwork only to be told no, whereas her white co-worker Charlie (Dan Stevens) goes through the process the same exact way (even for the same weekend) and is given the green light. It’s a bit that shows The Rental (the first feature-length film from Dave Franco, also co-writing the project with Chicago filmmaker Joe Swanberg making for a screenwriting duo that gels in terms of naturalistic millennial dialogue) might have a socially political edge to the impending thrills. As we meet the owner of the home played by Toby Huss, he does appear to have some prejudices. The stage is immediately set to overcome formulaic and familiar genre trappings, but this amateurish debut chooses to eventually embrace clichés in favor of a handful of interesting ideas that could have been done with the initial racial tension.
It’s also important to note the connections between the two couples. Mina and Charlie are not only co-workers with a deep appreciation for each other’s skillsets, but a part of each other’s personal lives as Mina happens to be dating his younger brother Josh (Jeremy Allen White). Michelle (Alison Brie) is Charlie’s significant other, successful in her own ways but not at all insecure about the close friendships he makes within his working environment. On the other hand, Josh is having something of a midlife crisis over the fact that Mina is incredibly talented and soaring in life without the help from a self-professed screwup that has no direction in life and has already been to jail once.
Relationship drama arises as the four isolate themselves together for the weekend, unspooling in a manner that is distinctly Joe Swanberg, but Dave Franco’s vision to fuse that with spy camera terror and technological thrills never pans out into something cohesive. There’s something to admire in the notion that most of these people have their own secrets and are potentially not very good in their own ways compared to say, the racist loaning them the home for the weekend, but whatever message striving to be told is lost. That goes doubly so when a new character is introduced in the film’s final 20 minutes, quickly leading to a string of incidents that are not as suspenseful as the pulsating musical score from Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans suggests. If anything, the closing moments, while ominous and creepy, also leave one feeling that the whole endeavor was pointless to watch.
One plot reveal is going to generate analysis and theories regarding Dave Franco himself and his brother James Franco. Maybe there’s nothing to glance from it all, but it sticks out that a lesser popular brother of two Hollywood stars would write this kind of story. That’s not to say Dave Franco is pulling from his personal life, more that it is just something difficult to overlook. Unrelated is a character credited with a name meant to further inspire searching for the meaning behind the story, except that too is not as clever as the filmmakers might think it is. There’s just no emotional punch or even a surprise to make it work; it’s just an IMDb credit that re-contextualizes one or two things.
Then one has to do with the fact that most of these characters simply are not likable, and that whether we want them to survive or not, also pretty stupid when placed in danger. One particular method a character uses as bait is so ridiculous I just had to laugh when it actually worked. Dave Franco also can’t resist his roots, tossing in some wildly out of place lowbrow humor, as one character animates licking the exposed ass crack of another character bending down to fix something. Playing devil’s advocate, the film is actually shot well and contains at least one jolt from the use of cinematography. The Rental is certainly entertaining enough to be worth a rental itself, but all of its aspirations to be something beyond that are ineffective and baffling.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com