Tribeca 2024 Review: Fernando Andrés’ Deviously Appealing “Rent Free” Will Live in Your Head

“The plan is simple – we stay out of people’s hair and do favors for them if they ask,” Ben (Jacob Roberts) tells Jordan (David Treviño) late one evening in “Rent Free,” with both trying to get a good night’s sleep, crashing in the living room of a friend from high school and writhing around on the couch and floor respectively trying to get comfortable. This course of action is the only one the two have when they know of no others after a planned hand-off of Jordan’s sublet to Ben in New York goes wildly awry and both have to find a new place to stay with little money at their disposal. While this puts the fear of God in Jordan, his friendship with Ben has at least been partially rooted in admiration for the risks he takes and he is willing to put his faith in his bestie’s unfathomable shamelessness when it comes to asking for favors, making the possibility that they won’t spend a penny for their accommodations in their hometown of Austin not entirely unfathomable while they try to save up the cash to return to New York.

There are many problems with this plan, none of which elude director Fernando Andrés in this sharp observational comedy in which not having a reliable place to rest their start starts to unmoor all other foundational tenets in their lives. With co-writer Tyler Rugh, Andrés shrewdly picks a setting in which such disorientation is wide spread amongst the locals in the rapidly gentrifying capital of Texas where housing prices have been driven up by outsiders, primarily from the tech sector, and the small-city charm that brought them is currently being wiped out with redevelopment. It’s a change that Jordan is already bracing for when he plans to move back in with his girlfriend Anna (Molly Edelman) and he doesn’t have his half of the rent, having been unemployed for the past three years in his chosen vocation of photography and scraping by in the gig economy. While this already dampens a warm welcome from Anna, bringing along Ben as an additional houseguest with no financial contribution puts even more strain on their relationship with two weeks to go towards a renewal of the lease.

Although Jordan’s anxiety nearly leads him to kill himself, Ben turns to Grindr to take his mind off things and while the two process the gaping hole in their lives in completely different ways, they have only each other to lean on. As they manage to get themselves kicked out for one random reason after another, usually due to Ben’s carelessness, “Rent Free” threatens to wear out its welcome too when the same vicious cycle that the duo find themselves can’t help but feel a bit repetitive with no end in sight, even as the various living situations reflect a social strata in which they have no obvious place among either the wealthy or those just scraping by and it provides a steady stream of strong supporting players to liven things up. Still, as Ben and Jordan attempt to maintain their own identity or dare to interrogate it when what’s going on is clearly not working for them, the film has enough confidence in its own conceit to pay off handsomely, earning enough good will with its laid-back charm and critical eye towards its leads to make you want to stay.

“Rent Free” will screen again at the Tribeca Festival on June 8th at 5:45 pm at the AMC 19th St. East 6, June 13th at 9 pm at the Village East and June 16th at 8:15 pm at the Village East.

Zeen is a next generation WordPress theme. It’s powerful, beautifully designed and comes with everything you need to engage your visitors and increase conversions.