Summer Rental (1985)
Written by Jeremy Stevens & Mark Reisman
Directed by Carl Reiner
John Candy was born in Ontario in 1950 to a working-class Roman Catholic family. His dad passed away when John was only five years old, but having a large family support group, he was able to work through that time. As a young adult, he went to college for journalism and pivoted when he discovered how much enjoyed performing. This led to his joining the Toronto branch of The Second City and several guest spots on Candian television. It was his work on SCTV, Second City’s response to the popularity of Saturday Night Live that brought him to the attention of the American public. After a few small film roles, John gained his most prominent recognition in a supporting role in Ivan Reitman’s Stripes. He became a regular comedic supporting figure in pictures like National Lampoon’s Vacation and especially Splash. Summer Rental was John’s first starring role, and it would lead to many more headlining spots.
John Candy plays Jack Chester, a burnt-out air traffic controller whose boss forces him to go on five weeks paid leave to sort himself out and regain his confidence. Chester packs up his wife and three kids and heads to Citrus Grove, Florida, right on the Gulf Coast to enjoy his time off by the beach. Of course, it can’t be that easy, and almost right away, the problems begin to pile up. The family ends up at the wrong rental house and have to move out in the middle of the night, their actual rental is a dump right next to the path to the public beach, and Chester manages to suffer a leg injury that leaves him posted up inside. Chester crosses paths with local yacht champion Jack Pellet (Richard Crenna) and makes it his goal to beat this man in the upcoming regatta. He’ll only be able to accomplish this with help from local saloon owner Scully (Rip Torn).
Summer Rental is a very subpar movie. It doesn’t hold its weight up against its contemporaries, especially when you look at the work that Carl Reiner previously produced. We are talking about the director of The Jerk and All Of Me, two fantastic 1970s/80s comedies. Summer Rental feels like a glorified sitcom even down to the original score used in choice moments. The jokes are, for the most part, bland and obvious. The one thing that succeeds in elevating certain scenes is the charisma and charm of John Candy.
John Candy is entirely believable in this role as an average husband and father. The movie is obviously inspired by more popular and better-written pictures like National Lampoon’s Vacation and Caddyshack. While Vacation’s jokes are much better written and its scenarios more interesting, John Candy does outshine Chevy Chase in terms of being a believable and importantly likable father. Clark Griswold is a complete asshole that does suit the tone that movie goes for, but here Candy needs to be a guy you root for. I think anyone watching the two would rather have Candy be their dad any day over Chase. Candy can react in ways that bump up the comedic quality of the script he is working with and shows why this man became such a beloved actor.
But Candy’s charms cannot save such a flat, uninteresting script. It feels like there are things cut from the movie to pare its rating down to a PG, and in the process, Chester’s family just sort of disappears. I expected that subplot would involve Chester confronting the man who basically steals his family away while Chester is injured, but that fizzles. Halfway through the movie, we switch from misadventures on vacation on the yacht race plot, and in the third act, we even have another twist added with Pellet buying the rental house and evicting Chester’s family. Summer Rental is a pivotal piece in Candy’s development as a leading man but is a wholly skippable and forgettable 80s comedy picture.