"Yes, I'll marry you!"
M. J Leonard | Silver Lake, Los Angeles, CA United States | 08/27/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The immigrant experience, going after one's dreams, and even reincarnation are woven into Room To Rent, a terrific little comedy-drama from Britain that has been finally released in the U.S. on DVD. What makes Room To Rent so good is that it's witty and clever, full of vibrancy and life, and with a storyline that snakes all over the place from broad comedy to awkward romance and then onto serious drama.
Säid Taghmaoui plays Ali, an Egyptian student trying to forge a career as a writer in London. Ali uses much of what he sees in life as a subject for his writings, so when his landlord gets fed up with him using his wife as material, he evicts him.
To add to Ali's problems, he only has twelve weeks to go until his visa expires then he has to be out of the country. His best friend Ahmed (Karim Belkhadra) suggests that he do a "white marriage" to obtain permanent residency). Ahmed says that he can find a British wife for him for five thousand pounds.
So desperate to get the money Ali works in a Middle Eastern restaurant, and then does everything he can think of - helping redub Arabic-language movies into English, working as an escort for his star pupil Vivian (Clementine Celarie), and posing as a model for Mark, an inner-city photographer-artist (Rupert Graves).
Frantically needing a place to live, Ali eventually rents a room from Mark, but he's put off and disturbed by Mark's promiscuous ways. However, when Mark's mother suddenly dies, the two of them forge an unlikely friendship. But Ali still doesn't have a wife, so Mark introduces him to Linda, (Juliette Lewis), a budding actress and Marilyn Monroe look-alike.
Ali gradually becomes enamored with Linda and Linda likes Ali, and is willing to marry him for a mere three thousand pounds, though Ali still has no idea how to come up with the money. Meanwhile, Ali also finds himself pursued by Sarah, a blind faith healer (Anna Massey).
This is the first feature from writer/director Khaled Al Haggar and he certainly manages to get the most out of his talented cast. Taghmaoui gives an absolutely charming performance as Ali and he really makes us empathize with his plight as he seeks true love. Despite all trials and tribulations, Ali just might have a chance at finding real happiness.
Graves is typically excellent as Mark, playing him as a sexy and successful, but ultimately lonely gay man estranged from his family. Lewis never lets her guard down for a second, playing Marilyn to the hilt, yet also imbuing her character with empathy, especially when she abandons her playacting.
El Hagar very nicely directs Room to Rent, with warm cinematography that captures the subtle hues of London. The characters are also fleshed out, the dialogue is snappy and intelligent, and the story, for the most part, avoids common clichés. The film is totally charming with an offbeat finale is at once uplifting, but also contains a nice surprise that most viewers just won't see coming. Mike Leonard August 05.