Rent is one of those Broadway shows that you feel you have to love, and even if you don’t you feel like you should. This is do to it’s subject matter and at the time in came out it’s “exuberant,” “contemporary” and hip nature all worked to make “Rent” a truly unique experience. Now ten years later, it’s safe to come out of the closet and say, “Rent sucked on broadway!” There, I’ve said it, no more peer pressure.
Even with my pronouncement, I still feel like I can’t say it “sucked” with 100 percent conviction, because depending on what day of the week you ask me, I loved the Broadway production, or I hate it. What makes the Broadway show work are the moments where the production blatantly manipulates your emotions with powerfully performed, emotional rock ballads like “Seasons of Love,” “One Song, One Glory,” “Will I” or “Take Me or Leave Me” but then those moments are followed up and ruined with “hard rock” crap that doesn’t work like the theme song “Rent,” or “La Vie Boheme” – horrible song that was fantastically performed in the film.
So it’s not too much of a surprise that I feel the same way about Director Chris Columbus’ film adaptation of it, this it the type of film that you really have to be in the proper mood to enjoy it and emotionally it’s all over the map.
It starts strong with the entire cast on a bare stage singing a moving rendition of “Seasons of Love” to an empty audience. This opening segment really puts you in the mood, but then it’s followed up with the actual start of the film which is the horrible “Rent” opening song which is 180 degrees different in tone and pacing from the first segment.
Rent isn’t so much a movie, as a series of segments, tied together by music that doesn’t transition from one moment to the next at all. It’s either moving and sentimental or over they top angry, with very little middle ground or connecting segments. Music aside the format of the production takes awhile for you to really get connected to the plight of its primary characters.
In the beginning of the film we meet the angry filmmaker wannabe Mark (Anthony Rapp is one of the main problems with this film, his voice is like nails on a chalkboard and he’s featured on an large number of the songs) who spends the film carrying around an film camera, his big idea is to shoot a documentary on his friends’ life, hoping to show the plight of the starving artist.
His roommate Roger (Adam Pascal) is a bitter HIV Positive musician who is desperate to write that one song that will give him glory and a legacy to leave behind before he dies.
Their friends include an HIV Positive, stripper, named Mimi (Rosario Dawson) who falls for Roger; Maureen (Idina Menzel) a performance artist who is protesting the eviction of tenants from the building owner, who happens to be their ex-friend and former roommate Benny (Taye Diggs) who they claim married a rich woman and then sold out.
There’s Maureen’s girlfriend, the yuppy, jealous lawyer Joanne (Tracie Thoms) who looks fantastic and almost out of place in this, but she has an amazing voice. Then there’s the “heart” of the group Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), an HIV Drag Queen and her boyfriend Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin) who always says his name as though he’s expecting people to laugh.
And, that is another problem with the film, there are pregnant pauses after all the major “show stopping” numbers as though Columbus expects the film going audience is going to break out into wild applauses. He seems to have forgotten that he was making a movie and not a live Broadway production.
At times “Rent” feels like it’s too faithful to the original source material and the flaws from the show – especially with regards to pacing, become glaring on screen.
The number one problem with the film is that the Characters aren’t very sympathetic, whiney bohemians who don’t seem to really have direction in their lives just aren’t all that exciting. When Benny “sells out” he’s disowned as a friend, when Mark finally gets an opportunity to get his films shown, he whines about being forced to “sell out” to a “sleazy” news magazine. Roger is self involved, angry, and worst of all self righteous, who you want to strangle, the same goes for Maureen who mistreats her girlfriend by flirting with everyone she comes in contact with.
What works with “Rent” are the performances, with the exception of Dawson who is fantastic; most of the leads are played by the original cast.
Let’s get back to Benny for a moment, he’s a guy who actually manages to make something of himself, and he tries desperately to work with his friends, giving them an entire year’s rent for free, yet he’s portrayed as the bad guy in this piece. It’s also weird, because at over 2 hrs the film feels like it ends abruptly without Benny being “redeemed.”
“Yes, “Rent” looks and feels dated, the way it handles HIV feel heavy handed for one character, and not really dealt with, with the others, but as I said in the beginning of this review, “Rent” contains a lot of real “Hit” or “Miss” moments with little room for a middle ground.
Whether you like this film will be based on two things – 1) People who love the Broadway show will love this, it’s almost a literal translation, 2) Do the “Hit” moments outway the “Miss” moments?
Since I still can’t tell you whether I liked the show or not (even though I’ve seen it 4 or 5 times), I’ll grade this based on the 2nd question, despite the film’s flaws, the moments that work – really work, and work really well. There are a couple of powerfully good sequences that makes this film worth your time.
This would be a definite DVD rental, and not a bad choice if Harry Potter is sold out. Though, I could have done without seeing Idina Menzel’s pale white ass.
Final Grade – B –
by Michelle Alexandria
Originally Posted 11/23/05