Saturday, August 1, 2020

Movie Reviews: The Rental

The Rental
directed by Dave Franco
The Rental is Dave Franco's directorial debut. Franco wrote it with director/actor Joe Swanberg (The Sacrament, You're Next).

It is inspired in part by some dodgy experiences that Franco had in hotels or private rented homes as well as some even more negative experiences that some of Franco's non-white friends or acquaintances had when trying to rent lodgings. 

It is true that it is illegal to refuse to do business with someone because of their race, religion or ethnic origin. It's also true that such discrimination can be difficult to prove. This discrimination remains so common that often it's not worth the time or trouble to take someone to court, which is usually what the offenders hope will be the case. 

Franco and his co-writers combine those elements and mix them up with a few more generic thriller cliches to make a quality story that doesn't set the genre on fire. It was fun to watch and had the requisite misdirection. I think that because the cast was small with a very tight focus the viewer was able to understand the characters better. That doesn't necessarily mean that the viewer will sympathize with the characters. 

I thought two of them did despicable things. The other two are only marginally better. But they are very real. People make mistakes. People act selfishly. If you dig into anyone's past you're going to find a few things that might give you pause. So it goes. 

Charlie (Dan Stevens) is a Silicon Valley company owner who is about to take his company public. Charlie is sure to be rich. So it's time to get down and have some fun. 

Charlie wants to have a weekend getaway with his wife Michelle (Alison Brie aka Mrs. Dave Franco), his younger brother Josh (Jeremy Allan White) and Josh's girlfriend Mina (Sheila Vand from 68 Kill). 

Mina is also Charlie's business partner. Mina shares authority with Josh. Mina also stands to become very wealthy. She's grateful to Charlie for sharing the spotlight and the money with her. 

Mina and Charlie spend a lot of time together. This sometimes bothers Josh. Josh is an ex-con who worries that Mina might be too good for him. Josh can't articulate this feeling very well, but he can certainly engage in friendly and not so friendly rivalry with big brother Charlie. 

Mina tries to rent an available home but her application, complete with her picture and Iranian last name, is denied. When Charlie tries his application is accepted. Because the home and location appear perfect, the couples decide to take it, even though Mina is stewing because of the apparent racism. 

When the foursome arrive at the home, Mina can't hold it in any longer. She confronts the owner Taylor (Toby Huss) who blandly denies any racist intent. Still, Taylor is a man who will without apparent embarrassment or rancor ask people of evidently different races how they wound up together or refer to people by their skin color rather than learn their names.

Mina doesn't like Taylor. After Taylor leaves we see that there is unresolved tension between and among the two couples. One couple learns that that someone is spying on them. A room door has an electronic lock attached. What could be behind that door? As the lies, paranoia, and manipulation pile up we almost don't need the violence.

Some characters mix deceit and truth to avoid consequences. They always make things worse. There is some female toplessness but it's shot from the back/above the waistline. This is a short movie that raised the tension throughout. If you're not big into thrillers or horror movies this might be acceptable for you to watch, up until the last 20 minutes. All told, a solid but not great debut.
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