' Cinema Romantico: Summer Rental

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer Rental

Kate at the movie blog Silents and Talkies is spearheading a festive summer blog-a-thon at the LAMB in which bloggers are asked to discuss "our favorite summer childhood movies and memories." As a kid of the 80's I often reminisce about how my family would gather together to watch John Candy comedies. There was just something about them on which we could all agree. Who amongst us could harbor ill will toward John Candy? "Summer Rental" (1985) is the one I remember watching most, probably half a dozen times before 1990, and yet in thinking about it I realized I probably had not seen it since fifth grade and that I hardly even remembered it and, well, you knew what that meant....to the Netflix queue! And much me to my surprise "Summer Rental" possesses one moment of unfathomable spastic brilliance. I think. It's hard to know. But that moment comes quite a ways into the film. You, the reader, need context.

Candy is Jack Chester, an air traffic controller in Atlanta who is so burnt out his boss forces him to take a paid vacation and so Jack and his wife and his son and his two daughters trek out for sunny Citrus Cove, Florida. All of this, amazingly enough, only takes five minutes. Say what you want but movies of today could learn a thing or two about that starting pace. ("Couples Retreat", I'm looking at you.) Once there they find themselves shantied up in a gorgeous vista on Beach Lane only to find out in the dead of the first night that this home, in fact, belongs to someone else and their home, a not so gorgeous vista, actually resides on Beach Road. Whoops! From there Jack finds himself locked in a macho duel with local arrogant yachtsman Al Pellet (Richard Crenna) who has won the annual regatta 7 years running. Jack turns to the owner of a dining establishment situated on a broken down vessel called the Barnacle, pirate-esque Scully (Rip Torn, who does a nifty job of seeming genuine in such a garish costume), who either is always in character or a former extra on all the old Warner Brothers buccaneer B movies, to become skilled in the ways of sailing and, after learning Pellet owns his vacation home on Beach Road and plans to kick Jack and his family out as an act of vengeance, attempt to win the regatta.

Directed farily gracelessly by Carl Reiner, "Summer Rental" has perhaps the oddest tone of any movie I've ever seen. It begins as a rather generic slapsticky comedy wherein, say, Jack accidentally falls asleep outdoors and winds up with a horrific sunburn or gets belted in the crotch by a frisbee or gets locked outside in a rainstorm courtesy of his own dog or blunders around the beach stepping on people's hands and smacking them in the head with his cooler. On and on and on. But suddenly in the second half the slapsticky stuff almost completely cuts off and it morphs into a much more earnest tale of a father trying to live up to the image his kids have of him and earn triumph as a lowly underdog in the regatta as the most motely of crews combining Jack's family and Scully's clan will work to get the Barnacle into tip top shape.


John Candy had something here in the latter forty-five minutes. There is the famous and sad story where Roger Ebert once found the late Candy drinking by himself in a bar and how much Candy said he hated himself for trying so hard to make people laugh at his movies. I think that vulnerability assisted - at least in this movie - to convincingly portray a family man just trying to give it his all and not let anyone, least of all himself, down. There is an amazingly sweet scene where he sits down on the beach with his sulking oldest daughter (Kerri Green, who illuminated The Me Decade and then was heard from no more) and really listens to what she has to say. It's a crying shame then that the screenplay of Jeremy Stevens and Mark Reisman (who?) spends half the film having him crack eggs on the car dashboard.

Then again perhaps the genius of Stevens and Reisman is beyond all of us. Back to that spastic moment of might-have-been brilliance. As the gang spiffs up the Barnacle Jack rises through a hatch to find his wife, Sandy (Karen Austin), sitting on the stern with a paintbrush and she says, forlornly, "I painted myself into a corner." Jack replies, "I did too." And then....the movie cuts to the next scene. This is to say the scene literally paints itself into a corner and then presents itself with no solution. I mean....I mean....I want to see the original screenplay to know if they had written dialogue or hijinks of some sort immediately after this exchange that got cut or if this was intended all along. If it was intentional it might have been as good as Christopher Nolan literally leaving The Joker hanging in "The Dark Knight."

If they did this on purpose then such an explosive game of Twister with the mind deserves to be recognized.

1 comment:

jp.vantoer said...

I know, this comment is 6 months overdue, but, wow.
I think this is sthe best review of this movie (my favourite Candy movie) You forgot just one thing. That gem of a Jimmy Buffet song at the end!

Jan-Paul