I’ve seen a frail old widow desperately fellate a toothbrush, and I’ll never be the same again.
Room for Rent
Director: Tommy Stovall
Release Date: May 3 (Limited), May 7 (VOD)
When Joyce’s (Lin Shaye) husband dies and leaves her with a shocking debt to settle, she’s left fragile and scrambling for some way to cobble together a living without a partner in her life. She’s dazed with a palpable sense that she’s always just waking up to what’s around her. She has to learn how the world works all over again, and it’s not kind to her.
She’s accosted by teenagers, brushed off by a tenant of her fledgling bed and breakfast, and endlessly eye-rolled by one lackluster-as-fuck pet store clerk. Skateboard punks corner her and try to assault her — and I’ve never been an old woman, but I would snap as she does when she slaps one of her attackers and grabs him, screaming in his face. Shaye plays Joyce as painfully human: manic, afraid, and angry. She loses herself in romance novels, in flowery tales with happy endings, and she begins building fictions for herself when she falls for her newest tenet, Bob (Oliver Rayon). He’s a leather-clad, rough-and-tough, pretty-boy biker who helps dispatch teens that egg her house, and Joyce begins to twist fact and fiction in a desperate attempt to make him hers.
Harold and Maude this is not, however, and Bob isn’t keen on her advances. Still Joyce writes letters to a former tenet, Sarah (Valeska Miller) describing romantic motorcycle rides and touching moments between her and Bob that never happen, and when Sarah comes to visit and sees Bob for herself, a one-night-stand sends the already fraught cohabitation into a nosedive.
Joyce shifts from an old woman you pity to a manipulative tyrant in a more believable manner than most thriller villains of her conniving type. She has no grand scheme, no secret torture chamber or overtly horrifying history. She’s lonely, spiraling, and exhibiting a sort of grimy desperation that wrangles the guts. Almost as soon as Bob arrives, she’s snooping through his belongings, trying his cologne — and, oh, the things she does to that toothbrush. She just wants him so badly. It’s as sad as it is gross and uncomfortable. This isn’t to mention when she drugs him, and her voice narrates lines from a some romantic pulp (probably one of those heathenish Scottish Laird stories) as she fondles his unconscious body. It gets a bit weird.
Joyce for sure goes over the top, but it’s by degrees. The script takes its time walking us through a portrait of a cracked and crumbling widow. She’s this clingy and snooping lady, but you hope that if she can just chill out maybe everything will be all right. Then, she’s jealous and belligerent, and you still hold out hope that she’ll just chill. Finally, she morphs to a vicious maniac--that you still feel pretty bad for and kind of hope can just chill the hell out and get her life back on track. You never hate her no matter how awful she becomes, and maybe that’s just the power of a sad widow.
Shaye makes Joyce a real and lived-in soul as pitiable as she is unlikable, and Room for Rent builds around her performance a surprisingly emotional thriller where you empathize with all parties involved, and you can’t help but think that if only that old lady never read a romance novel maybe none of this would have ever happened. Maybe if no old ladies ever read any romance novels, then nothing bad would ever happen again.
Quick, run to to your grandma’s house. Burn her romance novels. All of them, the shelves, too. Cleanse that filthy place. You can save her, yet. It’s not too late.