Set in 1990, a lonely bachelor named David (Brian Landis Folkins) searches for an escape from the day-to-day drudgery of caring for his aging mother (Kathleen Brady). While seeking a partner through a video dating service, he discovers a strange VHS tape called Rent-A-Pal. Hosted by the charming and charismatic Andy (Wil Wheaton), the tape offers him much-needed company, compassion, and friendship. But, Andy’s friendship comes at a cost, and David desperately struggles to afford the price of admission.
We all know that all people have a breaking point. We don’t know what will cause it or when it will happen but the human mind has its limits. Hell, we’ve seen plenty of mental erosion recently due to quarantining, along with a number of other factors. With us being social creatures, it’s only natural that the majority of us long for companionship, especially when our routine becomes increasingly more antisocial. Now, imagine being seemingly isolated during 1990. There’s no internet, cell phones are rare, and dating for the most part is done the old fashion way, through face to face interaction. I know it sounds crazy to some of you, but in the pre-digital age, you had to almost exclusively shoot your shot in person.
Rent-A-Pal is a glance back at the past and a peek into the fragility of a caged mind desperate for attention and compassion. I loved the overall tone of the film. It felt eerie and structured but you never quite knew when something was going to happen. It keeps you guessing and wondering whether reality is being blurred or is something supernatural going on. Somehow they were able to make Wil Wheaton’s chipperness very chilling. Additionally, Brian Landis Folkins put on a phenomenal eye-opening performance. His unraveling is both frightening and saddening. Rent-A-Pal has many elements that make it a great film from its layered character to it’s awkward and perfectly timed humor. The nostalgic aesthetic coupled with the cinematography is fantastic. There are some shots that really capture the essence of the tone and the madness that is unfolding. The ending is so crazy and slightly dressing but fits so perfectly. I enjoyed this movie, it’s a great introduction into the spooky season. Its rewatchability is high.
Plot & Pace
The story follows David, a forty-year-old man who has spent the last decade taking care of his mother who suffers from dementia. After shutting down his life completely, David is in need of love and companionship. Having no adequate time to be social and meet people the old fashion way, David turns to the aid of a video dating service. After months of no matches, desperate, David decides to buy a tape that guarantees friendship. Eventually infatuated with his video pal, David begins to blur fantasy and reality as he becomes unhinged. Finally matching with someone through the dating service, he must now decide which is more important his friendship with Andy on tape or his new connection with Lisa. The pacing isn’t slow but it does feel a bit mundane for a bit. It’s intentional and necessary once you realize how far gone David becomes.
Characters & Chemistry
As I said before, Brian Landis Folkins as David put on a phenomenal performance. His level of commitment to the character really made this film fantastic. He is able to make you empathize with a character even after he’s done something terrible. His chemistry with Lucille (Kathleen Brady), the mother is one that many of us can relate to on some level; my family never calls me by the correct name (It’ll make sense when you watch it). I loved the awkward chemistry between David and Lisa (Amy Rutledge) is very cute and reminds you of how simple things used to be. The best and most unsettling chemistry is between David and Andy (Wil Wheaton). It’s heartbreaking until it becomes scary.
Rent-A-Pal opens on September 11th in theaters and VOD. Enjoy and stay safe.
Director: Jon Stevenson
Writer: Jon Stevenson
Runtime: 1h 48m
Rating: 4 out of 5