“ROOM FOR RENT” had its U.S. Premiere at the SDiFF and it is already in contention as one of my favorite comedies of the year. Written and directed by Matthew Atkinson this film tells the story of Mitch played by Mark Little. A kid who won the lottery in high-school and managed to blow his fortune only find himself back living with his parents. Mitch goes about his solemn existence with no plans of change until he finds out his father has been forced into early retirement. With the threat of having to sell their home, the family rents out the guest room to Carl played by Brett Gelman. An odd man, with many eccentricities that will change this family’s routine forever.
Comedy is one of my favorite genres but in today’s cinematic landscape it can often be one of the least rewarding. Too many comedies these days recycle jokes, sight-gags and physical humor, and while there are some clever genre films here and there. They are certainly not the routine. “Room for Rent” from the second it begins shows strong potential as it sets the stage for the story of Mitch’s life after his lottery fortune had been squandered. The first-act is hilarious as it lays the foundation for his routine while living with his parents. He has a room in the house filled with useless, yet valuable material items that are like haunting memories of an exciting past.
His parents cope with him, yet are not exactly proud of the downward spiral their son has taken and watching these scenarios play-out early on generates tons of amusement. This set-up effectively creates a sense of grounded humor that builds genuine interest. Then the film injects it with a quirky contrast when the character of Carl Lemay is introduced as this weird and mysterious new renter. He has money so his odd mannerisms are overlooked by Mitch’s parents. His vague backdrop is compelling. You can sense he has a purpose, but with his odd personality, what that purpose is was unpredictable to say the least.
This film thrived on a simple recipe that is often difficult to accomplish. Grounded writing, with a strong sense of humor, and great cast performances. Mark Little was perfect for this role and his comedic delivery was subtle but very effective. He felt so natural in this persona and he appeared comfortable carrying the films comedic weight with Brett Gelman.
As for Gelman, he was excellent as well. He felt equally perfect for this role and with his expressions and unique mannerisms he gave the character of Carl Lemay the comical, but ominous presence this film needed for the story to land its intended impact. Gelman and Little show an awesome chemistry with one another. They deliver the dialogue so naturally, and they weave it with some charismatic physical acting to create endless amounts of hilarious interactions.
Matthew Atkinson’s script was excellent. All comedies are naturally trying to make you laugh. But there is a difference in how the laughs are generated for various films. Some take normal, generic stories and either load the dialogue with jokes and comic heavy performers. This can feel intentional to the point of losing its organic charm. Other films craft comical stories, with arcs and situations that create humorous scenarios that flow with the progression of the story-line. These films implement characters with specific personality types, and when they are added to these stories, the films deliver laughable scenes that are effective without feeling like it’s a shtick. This is what “Room for Rent” accomplishes.
The story-line was well paced. It had the perfect amount of side characters to keep the focus on the main plot-line. Yet the cast all have their moments to provide some humor and the variety of their personalities keeps things fresh. Carla Gallo comes in with a solid performance as Mitch’s love interest and she provides some funny moments as well with her reactions to Mitch and her recanting of wild antics he took part in when he was blowing his fortune. Patrick J. Adams also had a small part as the town cop and he was one of the more contrived characters but with his delivery, the result was still highly amusing.
Overall this was a great comedy and so well constructed from a story and comical aspect. It was a unique premise. It weaves down-to-earth and dark humor together perfectly with elements of mystery. The plot was clever as was the comedic wit and it was a great time. The characters are weird and likable, and it all blends together into a film that will leave you with a smile on your face when the end-credits role. Atkinson proves he is comfortable in this genre and I and excited to see where he goes from here with offbeat sense of humor.