Failure-to-launch comedy done right
Manitoba-shot movie's stars make excellent foils for each other
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 02/11/2018 (1547 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Warning: Room for Rent, written and directed by Matthew Atkinson and shot right here in Manitoba, is one of those comedies that jumps off from a place of mortifying embarrassment. Its hero, Mitch Baldwin, is a guy who won the lottery when he was 18, and in his youthful arrogance, blew the $3-million-plus jackpot on really stupid stuff, from a self-drying umbrella invention to a very inappropriate talking doll.
That premise might automatically disqualify the film from consideration for viewers like, well, myself. I could barely sit through an episode of The Office because the Steve Carell character’s penchant for humiliating himself generally drove me from the room.
But, the film clears that particular hurdle thanks to the subtle work of some of its key actors and a carefully calibrated dark-comedy tone.
More than 10 years after the lottery disaster, Mitch (Mark Little of the series Mr. D) still lives in a kind of self-imposed exile in the house of his parents Warren (Mark McKinney) and Betty (Stephnie Weir). The two enable Mitch’s refusal to engage with the outside world… until they can’t.
When Warren is forced to retire, he says he will have to put their house on the market. The desperate Mitch suggests they simply rent out his room. And suddenly, from out of the blue comes a perfect tenant. Carl (Brett Gelman of such series as Love and Fleabag) pays cash, and quickly endears himself to Mitch’s parents with his willingness to help out around the house.
But soon, Mitch picks up on the fact Carl seems intent on destroying his comfortable life.
A battle of wits ensues in which Mitch is forced to enlist his still-disgruntled ex-girlfriend Lindsay (Carla Gallo) and a former pal, Huey (Patrick J. Adams), who abandoned Mitch when his money ran out.
The failure-to-launch comedy has been tried before, most notably in the studio comedy Failure to Launch. (Talk about mortifying.) But Atkinson actually gets it right, finding the laughs in the premise by utilizing a cast of formidable comics not typically known for their ability to underplay a scene, particularly McKinney and Weir, who sprang from the realm of over-the top sketch comedies, The Kids in the Hall and Mad TV respectively.
Of course, he centres the film on Little and Gelman, who make excellent comic foils for each other. Little’s innocent naif is himself a manipulator and Gelman — playing the conniving but charismatic con man with a mysterious agenda — infuses just a touch of pathos.
With a supporting cast of local actors — Tom Anniko, John B. Lowe, Ernesto Griffith, Adriana O’Neil among them — the film is a decent quirky comedy that rises above a support-your-local-film-industry rationale to go see it.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.
Updated on Friday, November 2, 2018 8:08 AM CDT: Adds photo