Monroe and the Rent Boy
"Room to Rent" is an engaging but curious little movie which starts off as one thing but evolves into something else. The first half has an almost Richard Curtis feel about it with its London setting all but a multi national one where are central character is a young Egyptian man desperately trying to stay in the country to become a screenwriter who is willing to resort to a fake marriage as his Visa runs out. But this amusing first half which sees him make friends with a gay man and an actress who is a Marilyn Monroe look a like evolves into something deeper, well sort of deeper as the subject of reincarnation arrives. It is diverse and to be honest the first half works better than the second but it is fun even though having that familiarity of a typical London comedy.
Young Egyptian Ali (SaÃ¯d Taghmaoui - G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) is desperate to make it in London as a screenwriter but with his Visa running out his only chance seems to be to have his friend Ahmed (Karim Belkhadra) arrange a fake wedding for him at a cost. It is a sum of money he doesn't have and with him having nowhere to stay after his landlord threw him out for writing about his wife Ali finds himself in a room owned by Mark (Rupert Graves - A Handful of Dust), a homosexual photographer who brings home a new man every night. It is through Mark that Ali meets Linda (Juliette Lewis), a Marilyn Monroe look alike and aspiring actress who agrees to marry him for less, but still too much than he can afford. And just to add to his woes is the mysterious blind woman he encounters on the bus who seems to think she knows him.
After an amusing opening which not only sees Ali kicked out by his landlord when his story of the landlord's wife sleeping around is discovered but also features a kaleidoscope of London's multi-national culture we get the main story. That story is simply Ali trying to raise money so he can pay for a fake wedding but also the various friendships he makes from Mark the gay photographer who gives him a room to stay in to Linda, the Marilyn Monroe look alike. It all has that feeling of Richard Curtis as every set up has its share of comedy and emotion, from Ali having accidentally handcuffed himself to Mark's bed wearing a gimp mask to Ali being there for Mark when his mother dies. It is atypical with scenes such as Ali having sex with a married woman he teaches belly dancing feeling like it could have come out of any modern Brit comedy.
But the thing is that this first half despite being atypical is entertaining especially when we meet Linda and hats off to Juliette Lewis for doing such a good job of playing a Marilyn Monroe wannabee. You can't but help laugh as Lewis mimics Monroe's breathless delivery and combined with the look it occasionally borders on the creepily real. Throw in the fact that Ali is genuinely fond of her and it adds plenty more amusement which again is typical such as the married woman becoming jealous.
The thing is that whilst all this is going on we also get introduced to the blind woman who Ali first encounters on the bus. This builds to the second half which with a subject of reincarnation is very different to the first half and quite off beat. The two halves don't work together and it is a shame as the cleverness of the second half would have made for a good movie if it hadn't been combined with such a typical Brit comedy.
Aside from the issue with the two halves not working well together the performance of SaÃ¯d Taghmaoui as Ali is enjoyable as he gives Ali this air of innocence. When combined with Karim Belkhadra who plays his con artist friend Ahmed there is plenty of laughs which continues with Rupert Graves who plays Mark and Juliette Lewis who plays Linda. What is a shame is that Anna Massey is good as the mysterious Sarah, the blind woman, but because her storyline is at odds with the humour her character ends up feeling wrong for the movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Room to Rent" is an entertaining movie and feels like a low budget attempt to do a Richard Curtis comedy. The only trouble is that it ends up like two movies in one with the second half not working with the more humorous first half and that is a shame as both halves are enjoyable.