John Candy takes the whole family on a holiday where most things go wrong in Carl Reiner’s fun Summer Rental. This is one of Candy’s most delightful films.
Summer Rental marks one of John Candy’s earliest leading roles after supporting parts in National Lampoon’s Vacation, Stripes and Splash. He made the film shortly after starring alongside Richard Pryor in Brewster’s Millions. Reiner’s 1985 family-comedy certainly knows it’s a Candy vehicle as the director makes sure the attention is always on the comedy actor. Indeed, the script by Jeremy Stevens, who worked on Saturday Night Live with Candy, caters for the actor’s strengths. The premise is perfect for rotund comedian: bumbling family man goes on vacation and nothing seems to go right. Candy ensures the film works, keeping the laughs consistent thanks to his energetic, colourful performance. Like the majority of his films you can’t quite imagine anyone else playing the part, and Summer Rental is no exception – a warm, entertaining vehicle for his singular talent.
When Jack Chester (Candy) starts to see the strains of working long hours in the control tower of a major airport begin to take a toll on his work, his boss tells him he needs a break. Gathering the family they set off for the coast hoping for a relaxing vacation but there’s no chance of that. On their first night out they find themselves queuing for ages waiting to get a table at one of the town’s swanky restaurants but Jack is troubled when town rich-man Al Pellet (Richard Crenna) jumps the queue and gets the last lobster sitting in the tank. Jack confronts Pellet and the pair argue in front of the whole restaurant before he decides to leave knowing he can’t compete with this well-respected but egotistical member of the local community. This however is just the first run-in with him and soon enough Pellet is threatening to drive Jack out of town. But, with the town’s annual boat race quickly approaching they make a bet but Jack has just one problem: he doesn’t have a boat.
Summer Rental is certainly a film that justifies its title, encompassing the essence of the summer months and perfectly bringing the joy of the holidays to the screen. Director Reiner uses the sunny climate to drench the photography in the golden haze of the sun, giving the film that sense of a hot summer’s day throughout. Much like Planes, Trains And Automobiles made the wintry conditions of Thanksgiving a joy to be in, Summer Rental reminds of perfect family vacations, cold drinks in front of a calm sea, and fun times away from the monotonous daily chores of work at home. It’s commendable on Reiner’s part that even though he isn’t working with material of the quality he enjoyed with Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid and the fantastic The Man With Two Brains, he isn’t heavy-handed and makes the best of the simplistic story. The result is a film that celebrates family life without taxing the brain, full of the warmth and childish fun of the holiday season.
But this is very much a John Candy film and he is excellent in the lead role. His big-hearted husband from Planes, Trains And Automobiles and the energy of his Peace Corp buddy in Volunteers make up his character here, and he’s great to watch. His shocked reply to a woman showing him her breast implants is very funny, but when people start to use his beach house as a free-for-all and his sunburned, boredom turns to fabulous rage he’s at his manic, physical best. The ‘Smurfs’ one-liner to an overweight freeloader drinking and smoking in his bed is the best of the film, while he turns some mediocre sarcasm into dry, perfectly timed laughs. He’s ably supported by Rip Torn as Scully, the restaurant owner, while Crenna is a decent cartoonish bad guy.
Summer Rental is a product of what the eighties did best. Yes, it is cheesy and silly but it has a great sense of escapism about it. While the script isn’t very good (the plot is join-the-dots and very predictable) and Carl Reiner clearly knows he isn’t making another comedy masterpiece like some of his other work, at times allowing for too much sugary-sentiment, the film is nothing short of entertaining. John Candy is great in the lead role and the film’s sunny outlook and summer setting will leave very few without a smile on their faces come the closing credits.
Directed by: Carl Reiner
Written by: Mark Reisman, Jeremy Stevens
Starring: John Candy, Karen Austin, Rip Torn, Richard Crenna