Sex, lies, and videotape. What better way to celebrate positive business growth? Take a weekend getaway to a posh, secluded home in the Pacific Northwest. That’s what close partners in business Charlie (Dan Stevens) and Mina (Sheila Vand) deserve. Of course, they will not be going alone; Charlie is bringing his wife, Michelle (Alison Brie), and Mina gets her boyfriend—and Charlie’s brother—Josh (Jeremy Allen White) to accompany her. Throw in a dog too that isn’t supposed to be there.
The foursome (fivesome?) arrive to their booked rental home greeted by a pointed and possibly racist AirBnb host, Taylor (Toby Huss). No matter, he’s not going to impede on their good time. A boozy, drug fueled night gives way to next morning haziness. Yet, that is not the worst of it. Something is wrong with this rental. Very, very wrong.
Every year sees many directors making their full-length directorial debuts. While there is no immediate way to know whether this belief is true or not, it feels like nearly seven months through 2020, there’s an abnormally high level of movies being helmed by first-time shooters. The latest? Dave “Not James” Franco.
The younger Franco kicks off his career behind the camera really strong, using a screenshot of the key setting of the film to work as an establishing shot. It is a small, but kind of clever, approach that resembles Ari Aster’s opening of Hereditary (a work that is barely two years old and already has been quite the influence on many directors). In eight-to-ten minutes before the title card comes, his usage/lack thereof of spacing informs the audience rather quickly on the character dynamics at play. Oregon (shot in Bandon) and the expansive, woodsy Pacific Northwest lends itself perfectly to this type of story setup; it is far from claustrophobic though it finds some thrills in the idea that being confined could be the lesser of two evils when compared with being wide open to the point of any and all secrets being available with minimal work done. Yes, Franco gets his heaviest inspiration from Rear Window.
In addition to directing, Franco writes a third of the script alongside Joe Swanberg and Mike Demski. Their combined efforts make for a passable but pretty pedestrian plot. Their red herring is obvious from the get-go. To their credit, the trio is able to mine a bit of unpredictability in the final act. With that said, those looking for some type of overarching connection to what the movie turns into or an “AHA” theme are unlikely to find it here, outside of well-known ideas of Airbnb’s being super sketch and the ease of turning anything into an instrument of observation. However, the biggest flaw with The Rental is the simple fact that no one is all that likable enough to get behind, which makes for a problem in the movie’s last leg. No, it’s not a requirement to have heart of gold characters, but give the people who make up a movie at least another dimension or two to sell themselves to an audience and get semi-invested in their plights.
The lack of dimensions snuffs out any opportunities for the cast of The Rental to deliver compelling—or even just fun—performances. The underrated Stevens is left with a mastermind douche archetype, and his on-screen brother, played by White, funnels into a template of underachieving hothead. Vand is initially positioned to bring a different aspect until she fits into a cookie-cutter mold. All three are people largely insufferable. Brie’s character is the closest one to a moral center, and even she is a stretch in that respect.
Franco books The Rental into a territory of fine and lightweight. Unlikely to blow people away, but a foundation is there for the budding director to build upon.
Photo credits go to YouTube.com, impawards.com, and cinemablend.com.
For additional detailed thoughts on films both small and large, games, and the key moments that comprise each, check out ThatMomentIn.com.
Feel free to follow me @MrJackMarkSon.