HBO // 2005 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Jonathan Weiss (Retired) // September 1st, 2006
A comedy about the labor of love.
HBO has taken over where the movie of the week and after school special once reigned supreme. Maybe someone should call Scott Baio. These types of movies typically fall into categories like "disease of the week," "woman learning to make do on her own," and "forbidden relationships." And while HBO does like to swim in those self-same plot pools, a title like Love For Rent also seems to be directed squarely at the very large Latino market. And while this is commendable (and probably a pretty shrewd business move), it will be interesting to see if Love For Rent is a movie with insightful Latino sensibilities and points of view or merely one where the characters are present for their ethnicity but are otherwise indistinguishable from any other culture.
Sofia (Angie Sepeda) has just had the worst day of her life. While sleeping, her marriage-of-convenience husband, Jesse, sneaks into her apartment with his friends and cleans it out. This even includes the futon that she's been sleeping on -- which they take when she gets up in a daze to go to the washroom. He also empties her bank account and cancels her credit cards and any insurance she might have. When her cousin and her marriage-of-convenience husband, harmless George, take her out to forget her woes, Sofia winds up with a mild concussion when her cousin mistakenly head bumps her on the dance floor. The cute doctor (Ken Marino) who checks on her? The same cute guy she had previously told that day, in a hysteric frenzy, to get the f -- away from her. And to top it off, on the way home from the hospital, George totals Sofia's car, her sole possession, when they stop to help a couple stranded by the side of the road.
The couple turns out to be Frank and Helen Bauman, two people who have tried to have a baby multiple times only to have multiple heartaches. When they find out that Sophia's car insurance has been cancelled they make her a proposition: become their surrogate mother for 50 thousand dollars. Obviously this kind of money will help Sofia stay in law school, rebuild her life after what was stolen, and may just stop her from being arrested and deported back to Columbia -- if jerk-off Jesse doesn't do anything else to screw things up.
Love For Rent is not a great movie. Not even close. It's not even a real Latino movie. Sure, Sofia and her cousin are Columbian and when they get upset they start screaming in Spanish and subtitles are dutifully projected on screen, but these two characters could easily be Asian, African American, or White, and you'd still be watching the same movie.
And before we get on with that movie there are a couple of things that need to be said or asked right now. Why was this film called Love For Rent? Sophia isn't renting her love. Not in the slightest. Love never enters into the equation between Sofia and the Bauman couple. Ever. Another tag line they used for Love For Rent was "Would you rent your body and soul for $50,000?" And again, this line is a complete misnomer. You'd think you were watching a movie like Indecent Proposalor something and that would be farthest from the truth. You're not. This isn't some tense psychological morality play here; it's a piece of harmless fluff. A much better title for this film would have been "Womb For Rent," not only because it's a much cuter title but also because that is what Sofia is actually doing. She is the vessel for which the Bauman's baby will be delivered -- no more and no less.
The second thing that raised an eyebrow is the whole Post-It Note motif. It's there on the cover of the DVD. The entire opening credits are laid out on them. Why? No really, why? You'd think that at least one character in the film, either Sofia, the doctor, or maybe even the Bauman's would have some kind of crazed fetish type thing going on with them -- but nope, not the case. Other than these two mentioned areas of the film there is not another yellow or blue sticky to be seen.
The biggest irony about this film, however, is that even though two of the main characters are Latinos, there is a complete dearth of any other culture other than Whites represented. C'mon, the guy Sophia's cousin Monica is married to could have easily gone to an African American guy. Even the doctor's friend, as few lines as he has, could have been played by another ethnicity. There are other roles too that could have been filled by non-Whites, but for some reason weren't. A principal, a neighbour, classmates, even a potential employer -- all White. Maybe Hollywood doesn't want to rush headlong into anything crazy -- like real life.
Oh wait...there is an African American grocery store clerk. So there you go -- the great American melting pot. You won't find any rationale in the extras because as is typical of HBO, there aren't any.
You can split Love For Rent into two distinct sections. The first is life goes to hell, and the second is Sofia becomes a surrogate. If you're going to warm up to this story at all it's in the second section. The first is just too annoying. The opening credits alone just reek of a director trying to show that he's got some Tarantino cred. Annoying cred is more like it. Let's just say that it's been done before, it's been done better, and in this case there was no need for it to be done at all. Also, when Jessie, the green-card husband, completely ruins Sofia's life by robbing her blind, Sofia's cousin Monica offers absolutely no support or even a hint of sympathy other than offering to get her drunk and take her dancing. Talk about solidarity!
There's also a subplot you should know about -- between Sophia and the kid next door. Let's just say he's a foster child, his foster folks look to be total jerks, and there's a question of where he's getting his bruises -- and leave it at that. Thing is you can't, because the kid, Max (Max Burkholder), becomes a big part of the story. His introduction into Sophia's life is less than idyllic, but as they get to know each other and bond, he helps bring out Sophia's maternal instincts -- especially as she starts ballooning up to a gargantuan size 6. Anyway, it's this self-chosen family, composed of Sofia, Max and good 'ol Doctor Neil, that will likely get you on board (if you're a softie for that kind of thing).
Nora Dunn is also in the movie and underplays Helen Bauman quite beautifully. No shtick here; just a bundle of sadness, and anger, and quiet nobility that finally finds its way up to the surface. She doesn't have a huge roll in the film but it is a pivotal one and she does have the name that most people are likely to recognize.
But the best thing about Love For Rent is Ken Marino as Dr. Neil Gardner. This guy looks like a cross between Luke Wilson and Chris Noth and has a charming and easy way about him. He and Angie Sepeda have really nice chemistry between them and since it's their relationship that seems to be the linchpin meant to hold this whole thing together you can breathe a sigh of relief that it works.
You want to know the craziest thing about Love For Rent? You might actually like it. You won't be able to help yourself. If you're in the right mood, or in somewhat of a similar situation in your life (namely pregnant), you might actually overlook all the incredibly clichéd moments, too cool for school camera shots, and the obvious "seen it coming a mile a way and still don't care" wrap-up, and surprise yourself by realizing that you're hugging your pillow and smiling. How crazy is that? Guess a movie doesn't have to be great or even all that good to still be sweet.
Love For Rent is guilty of being just another tired cliché in a long line of tired clichés. Sofia, Neil, and Max, on the other hand, are free to live happily ever after.
Review content copyright © 2006 Jonathan Weiss; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated R