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 open with a slow introduction to our main character David, where he is living life and setting the tone for his quirky, neat freak nature. David is single and alone, so he is using this dating place to find himself a woman. We see David get ready to film his video for his matchmaking, and the switch that is flipped as soon as the camera is on by David (Brian Landis Folkins) was mesmerizing to watch. His demeanor reminds you of this serial killer vibe, from his mannerisms to his body language, it is very creepy.
We transition into David putting this tape into the VCR, and it’s a ‘Rent-A-Pal’ where you get a somewhat customized video of Andy who is your friend, he listens to your problems, gives feedback, and is just there for you. The dynamic between David and Andy is what sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
Simultaneously as this relationship is happening between them, our director Jon Stevenson does a remarkable job of utilizing the surroundings to enhance the scenes. The attention of detail down to the phone ringing and Andy picking it up and hanging up to make David feel important was magnificent. Another thing that Stevenson did well was mixing the score (done by Jimmy Weber) with its creepy horror-like theme throughout the movie.
As we transition into the unraveling of David, we start to see how our childhood can be detrimental to our growth into being adults. You feel this empathy towards David, and what he went through and how it truly altered his life and the man he became and how he couldn’t overcome it.
Sometimes you don’t realize your own strength until you come face to face with your greatest weakness.
We get to this massive high, and we are just smacked in the face by Stevenson in this remarkable shot and well-placed timing he has throughout the film. The way he ripes your heart in half showcases how emotionally invested you are into the story, and that’s a testament to Stevenson and his writing/directing.
As we hit the home stretch, the final act proves this film’s horrific nature with its pulsating score, and Folkins’s ability to make you cling onto his every move, every word, and its breathtaking closing to a remarkable film.
The writing is smart as he articulates the troubles of how one can never find his way because of his past. The character arc of David is magnificent, he writes him in such a way that makes you feel this empathy for him, and you feel guilty for feeling that way about it, but you feel like its the right thing.
I talk a lot about how great Brian Folkins is in this film, but I would be remiss not to talk about how great Wil Wheaton is playing Andy our “Rent-A-Pal”. He just oozed this odd but perfect charisma in this character that made you laugh but equally hate the person he was trying to be. I was blown away with the chemistry between our two leads.
Another standout for me in the movie was Amy Rutledge, who transformed herself into this role of Lisa. Her and Folkins worked so well together. When they were on screen together, they made you feel that awkward chemistry Lisa and David shared. Rutledge had a powerful scene towards the end of the film that showcases how good she can be.
Jon Stevenson packs a serious punch in his directorial debut. He is going to be directing some of the biggest names in Hollywood in a very short time. This was a remarkable film from start to finish.
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