Close this search box.

Rent Free Film Review: Heartfelt Social Critique

Two men are asleep in the underground, leaning on one another, in the 2024 film Rent Free

With echoes of 2000s indie flicks, Fernando Andrés’s wickedly funny Rent Free follows two LGBT+ twenty-somethings as they couch-surf throughout Austin, Texas.

Director: Fernando Andrés
Genre: Drama, Comedy
Run Time: 93′
World Premiere: June 7, 2024
Release Date: TBA
Where to Watch: At the Tribeca Film Festival

There comes a time in one’s life, normally around the age of the protagonists of Rent Free, when it feels like the only thing anyone talks about is housing and how to afford it. Perhaps this is a uniquely 21st-century phenomenon, or has at least been exacerbated by recent housing crises in rich western nations; a film like this, where the words ‘rent’, ‘lease’ and ‘sub-let’ crop up in just about every conversation, feels like it could only have been made in the last few years.

After a plan to live a (rent-free) high life in New York is scuppered by a sexual indiscretion with one half of the couple hosting him, Ben (Jacob Roberts) is dragged back to Austin, Texas, the hometown he reviles, with best friend Jordan (David Treviño, of Storage Locker). When the latter, a sporadically employed photographer, breaks up with his long-suffering girlfriend, both men find themselves without a permanent dwelling. Instead of finding a new place together, they make a pact: try to spend the rest of the year without paying rent, then head back to the Big Apple with the money saved. It’s an inspired setup for a comedy-drama whose gentle satirical bite complements the endearing performances at its heart.

The film’s premise recalls 2000s mumblecore, with two flawed but charming figures embarking on modest inner journeys like the protagonists of Lynn Shelton’s Humpday or Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies. There are shades of early Mark Duplass in Roberts, who portrays Ben with a spirited physicality and supreme comedic timing. Ben is sharp, brash and incredibly horny, driven by desire in all its forms, while Jordan is an altogether more listless being, cast adrift by the breakup he never saw coming. Roberts and Treviño really demonstrate their acting chops when the friends’ plan proves more difficult than expected and they move back into Ben’s childhood home. While this familial setting is an incubator for Jordan’s sense of worth and purpose, Ben regresses to a comically adolescent state; the way the leads interrelate as their characters evolve and diverge is impressive.

When they’re not sleeping in bunkbeds and picking up odd jobs, the two friends fraternise with potheads, academics and local LGBT+ circles, soundtracked by Andrew Savage and other contemporary indie darlings. Ticking these boxes places Rent Free firmly in the tradition of the low-budget US cinema where the generation of Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig found its feet, but it’s very much a 2020s update. There are swipes at the gig economy and social media – one character works for Facebook where he removes inappropriate content, describing himself as ‘numb to everything’ – and a nuanced consideration of the place of bisexual people in the wider queer community that one can’t imagine showing up in a film like this 15 years ago.

Two men are sleeping in a wooden bunk bed in the 2024 film Rent Free
Rent Free (Visit Films / 2024 Tribeca Film Festival)

The aesthetic of Rent Free is very of its moment; director and cinematographer Fernando Andrés employs pastel colours and a hi-res Netflix-era sheen, each scene professionally lit and meticulously composed with today’s young audience in mind. Undoubtedly designed to involve us in the fast-paced, impulsive nature of its characters’ experiences, the speed at which we move between shots and scenes is a far cry from the drawn-out long takes of some of Andrés’s aforementioned forebears. It works for the most part, but the choppiness of the editing sometimes undermines the film’s brilliantly excruciating humour and the catharsis that finally arrives in its later scenes. With such well-crafted characters and atmospheres, it wouldn’t hurt to bask in some moments for just a little longer.

Rent Free is no easy film to pin down: wickedly sardonic with a beating heart; an LGBT+ film with more to say about friendship than sexuality; a road trip movie spent almost entirely in the same city. This defiance against generic convention feels entirely in step with the precarious, subversive lifestyles of the film’s characters, who, despite their faults, are portrayed with an affection that transfers effortlessly to the viewer. Such a deft balance of irony and warmth is hard to come by in contemporary cinema; we should cherish it.

Rent Free premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 7, 2024. Read our list of 15 films to watch at the 2024 Tribeca Film Festival!

A Desert Film Review: Stylish But Hollow – Loud And Clear Reviews
Memorable visuals and slick editing can’t mask the deeper issues with A Desert — namely, the flimsy narrative and glacial pacing.
Thank you for reading us! If you’d like to help us continue to bring you our coverage of films and TV and keep the site completely free for everyone, please consider a donation.