Rent-a-Pal Mindjob What Did I Just Watch?

Screenplay
80
Acting
75
Direction
70
Mindjobness
90
Editing
61
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75

Rent-a-Pal Mindjob What Did I Just Watch? It’s Christmas Season. And that means, it’s time for really depressing, introspective, mindjob movies that will make you loose your grip on reality and wonder exactly why we are all here in the first place!

Never heard of Rent-a-Pal? Don’t worry, 24 hours ago I hadn’t either. The story is about an individual who has derailed his life to care for his mother. It’s a movie set in the 90’s and it is told in all kinds of pre-oughts glory. It deals with David’s search for love and affection in this really lost and concerning world that he finds himself in. It’s an interesting conversation that reminds me of other depressing movies we’ve discussed lately… like Boiling Point and the Feast. You can find it for free over on Hulu… or for rent in a pile of other locations.

The interesting thing here is that there is a website, and an online service that is literally called rent-a-friend.com where you can literally rent a friend. I have no idea how the service works or what it is specifically for. But this movie makes me very… very, very, worried for these people on this site! hahaha. But man, I would LOVE to rent a friend… a guy – not interested in anything funny – just to see why they do it and to hear about some of their experiences. I am just fatally curious, I guess. Anyway, let’s start talking about this movie, shall we? Goes without saying, you shouldn’t venture beyond this point if you haven’t seen this movie yet.

Rent-a-Pal Movie Walkthrough

David, a bachelor who feels that his living in his mother’s basement defines him, cares for his mother who has been stricken with some form of dementia, and is unable to care for herself. What could be a very sweet, and thoughtful trait, his love and care for his mother, seems not so sweet as the film progresses. He seems burdened by the responsibility, and as his family history is unpacked the more disturbing this little insular world gets. Apparently, David’s father, Frank, committed suicide ten years prior, after a moderately accomplished career in Jazz. But thankfully, David has a play for love and affection that is going to score for him big time. He’s certain of it.

Did we mention that Rent-a-Pal is set in the 1990’s? The heyday of video cassettes and the “be kind rewind” era! While visiting the local office of a video cassette dating service (Do you kids even remember that Red Box started by mailing dvds to homes?) he notices a video called “Rent-a-Pal” that features the host, Andy (played by Will Wheaton). It’s a kitschy sort of video wherein Andy talks to the viewer, and then leaves blanks for the viewer to interject their own conversation responses. It’s the sort of lame kind of relationship that might just do wonders for our poor, recluse of an individual, David. I mean, wouldn’t talking to a VHS friend do YOU wonders?? But the first time our intrepid friend attempts to watch it he realizes the two of them are out of sync, and he turns it off when Andy interrupts him. As it would…

The next day – exciting exciting! – David is contacted by Video Rendezvous, to alert him that a WOMAN was interested in his dating tape… but by the time he gets there with his payment methods, she’s already moved on to a different prospect. WORSE? She’s perfect. She’s a professional caregiver, she seems compassionate to those like him, and the perfectness of this lost opportunity depresses him. He decides to drown his sorrows in Rent-a-Pal goodness, and he learns that Andy too had an abusive mother who was terrible to him. Better yet, Andy went to take a girl to the prom, but she was “sick.” And when he arrived at the dance to find her with someone else, he came completely unglued. And just like that, Andy and David are best buds. Yes, you read that correctly… the video cassette guy, and David, are now best friends. What?

The two now spend countless amounts of time together. Drinking, playing Go Fish. And David even tells Andy about this one horrifying experience where others sent notes to a girl he liked in school, signed as him, wherein they said inappropriate things. And voila, he was suspended for three days. (Did you believe it wasn’t him?? I mean? He is super creepy. Just saying.) Later, Andy tells a story about having sex with a woman, and David gets all excited about Andy’s recounting of the story. But at the last second, David’s mother barges in and catches him. She’s yelling and screaming about how you shouldn’t masturbate Frank this, and Frank that… obviously mistaking her son for her husband. And David, totally upset, tells his mother that her husband has been dead for ten years, that he killed himself… and she breaks down as a result. All the while, Andy is laughing in the background.

New day, new opportunity, and David gets another call from Video Rendezvous with the news that Lisa, his previous match, is still interested in him. Apparently, her previous match didn’t work out, and she thinks she’d get along well with David. They go on a date out at a roller skating rink, and have a glorious time. They click, they laugh, they fall on the rink. It’s pretty much a match made in heaven. They even make plans to get together again. But when David gets home and tells Andy about the great news, Andy is pissed. HOW DARE YOU CAST ME ASIDE!!!?!?! And the like. I mean, they had made plans to play Go Fish dangit! How could he? And so, David dutifully cancels his plans with Lisa, and stays at home, instead telling Lisa there was something wrong with his mother.

Later that night, after hanging out with Andy, David discovers that his mother has taken off. Unable to find her, David calls Lisa, and the two of the search the town until they find her. Thankfully, they find her waiting at a bus stop in the middle of the night, going on and on about how late the bus is. Lisa, deftly tells David’s mother that the bus broke down a few stops back, and that they’d be happy to give her a ride to where she is going. David is amazed at how good Lisa as at all of this, and after tucking his mother in, they go downstairs to hang out together. After making out, David prematurely ejaculates, and Andy laughs in David’s face from his normal hang out spot of the television. When Lisa asks about what just happened – no, that guy on the TV – David tells her she probably ought to leave.

The next day, Lisa calls back, asking if she can apologize. Why? She doesn’t know, but they seemed to have a lot in common and that it seemed funny they would fight about a silly video tape. There she goes again, with that annoying voice of reason! hahaha. Regardless, David ignores her call as he continues about his day, mindlessly working, cleaning the house, and just keeping busy. As he’s going about his day he stumbles upon a picture in his mother’s room featuring himself and someone that looks coincidentally similar to Andy.

Worse – his Rent-a-Pal cassette is missing!!! Oh, and even better? His mother is turning the tape into a handcraft effort with scissors and glue. This so angers David, he hits his mother in the face. Blasting her to the ground. “Do you have any idea what you have taken from me?” Hurriedly, he drives back to Rendezvous, and manhandles another Rent-a-Pal tape out of the store (and steals another just for good measure). And when he starts watching the tape again, Andy says the phrase, “Moms, who needs em? Am I right?” And David assumes that Andy is telling him to get rid of his mother. So he tells his mother that she is the reason his father killed himself, and then shoves her down the stairs. And David puts the tapes in both his TVs so he can have Andy throughout his house.

Later, Lisa arrives with an olive branch… dinner and a hope to make amends. Only glitch? She discovers David’s dead mother in the basement. Yeah, sort of puts a crimp in a relationship that sort of based itself on David’s love for his mother, his love for caring for others, and his desire to share his loving life with Lisa. David, speaking in the tone and cadence as Andy, attempts to kill Lisa, but Lisa is able to get free and to stab David in the chest with some scissors. She then runs for it as David drags himself back to Andy. He fast forwards the tape, and watches as Andy says goodbye to David as he bleeds out and dies from his stab wound. A wholly appropriate ending to a horrifyingly depressing movie.

Tons of Open Questions Here

Alright. The basic synopsis is pretty simple here. A guy is stuck with his ailing mother, and he resents her. This much is very clear. Simultaneously, he is desperate for social and emotional connection. This is a standard human need… totally understandable. Poor guy is so broken that he can milk social interaction out of a non-changing video. And I am betting some of you have that question – so why don’t we just get to it, shall we?

Rent-A-Pal Question 1 – Does the tape change as David watches it? – It’s not 100% clear, but I think it’s 98% clear that no, the tape does not change. David, as he watches it, and interacts with it, he is memorizing it and refining his interactions in order to meet the beats, and the cadences of Andy’s spaces. It also helps that generally, as he is watching the video cassette, he is drinking. So there’s that. Not to mention David is mentally broken. Just a really desperate and hurting individual.

Rent-A-Pal Question 2 – Explain why there is a picture of Andy and David together – Look, I’m pretty good at breaking movies down, finding meanings and explanations even when there are none. But, on this question… I have nothing for you. I am happy to share my own working theory on this question which is that I think that David is probably transposing Andy onto a photo of himself and someone else in order to protect himself. Andy really isn’t in that photo. Why? Well, it could be Frank, David’s father in the photo. There could be psychological trauma here, and like a clam wrapping a piece of sand to flip it to something soft, he too is protecting himself from the reality of that photo. Maybe? Or Andy really was his father, and Andy is his stage name, and his real name is Frank!?? hahaha.

Rent-A-Pal Question 3 – Why doesn’t David know a good thing? – First, let’s say this, David is insane. Completely. So, he can’t correctly evaluate what is good for him and what isn’t. He’s too far gone. But even so, it’s still baffling with just how perfect Lisa is for him. I mean, that roller skating date was possibly the best date that has ever occurred on planet earth. Like ever. So, what was he missing here? Let me ask a question of you to flip this script a little. When was the last time that you demurred from having a real world conversation instead of flipping through your phone? Right. Sure, you weren’t talking to your TV… but we do prefer our IG roll vs. the hard work of real world dynamics. Right? So, pot meet kettle, kettle… happy to introduce you to pot.

This movie was really depressing to me. First, it is rough to see someone that is trapped like this. That is horribly sad. Secondly, to watch this Rendezvous dating “solution” just work David for money, over and over again. But, in Rendezvous’ defense, they did land David literally the perfect woman for him. I mean, could the match have possibly been any more perfect than this match? I mean, the only glitch here is that it might be too perfect. But regardless, they did connect him to Lisa. It was actually less depressing to me when the movie dove off the deep end. It was less realistic in some ways, and less impactful as a result, if you know what I mean. Now, there was a way for this movie to get even worse… how? David could have shoved his mother down the stairs, and then could have randomly murdered Lisa, buried her with his mother out back, and then gone back to hugging his Wil Wheaton infused TV. Right? That would have been worse. So, there is that. Phew.

I do think that the movie forces us to think honestly about a number of things simultaneously. How are we caring for our older loved ones? What is the cost of that care, and how prohibitive is this care for a large swath of our society? Also, for the shut-ins among us, how are we reaching out to them and making them feel important and valued? But also, when someone finds themselves licking their TV, and chatting with a video cassette, they’ve gone off the deep end already and there really is no hope for them outside of a padded cell and some really high quality palliative care. Just saying. What do I know though?

Edited by: CY

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