QUICK TAKE: Rent (2005)

By Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Rosario Dawson, Idina Menzel
My Rating: 8/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 46%

PLOT: The film version of the Pulitzer and Tony Award winning musical about Bohemians in the East Village of New York City struggling with life, love and AIDS, and the impacts they have on America.

If you are not a “Rent-head”, then the long-awaited film version of the late Jonathan Larson’s massive Broadway hit is not likely to convert you.  The musical numbers are competently staged, but without a huge amount of imagination, so you’re basically getting the stage show, on a screen.  (The largest flight of fancy is the “Tango Maureen” number that briefly leaves reality when a character is knocked unconscious.)

I would not describe myself as a “Rent-head”, but I am a big admirer of the live show, so as far as me and my opinion are concerned, this counted as a fun night at the movies.  I like the slightly irregular rhythms of the lyrics, the raw vibe of the music, like Jonathan Larson slapped everything together hoping it would stick, though I’m sure the exact opposite was the case.

The story is melodrama personified.  We’re in the realm of stage musicals, where everything is bigger and brassier than real life, reality turned to eleven.  For those unaware of the plot, it’s loosely based on Puccini’s opera, La Bohème, so don’t expect subtlety or a happy ending.  (Not saying there ISN’T one, just don’t EXPECT it.)

[SIDE NOTE: Watching it again this time around, I couldn’t get away from thinking of the movie Hair, Milos Forman’s cinematic adaptation of that Broadway show.  Rent feels like Hair without the drug-trippy scenes or the hippie music.]

Make no bones about it, this movie was a passion project, from the director on down.  The filmmakers begged the MPAA to downgrade the rating from R to PG-13, to make it more accessible to teenagers.  That passion is evident in every camera swoop and exquisitely lit close-up, but it’s not quite as effective as other move musicals that take bigger strides in the world of make-believe (Moulin Rouge, Across the Universe).

I’m trying to think of a way to wrap up this review, but it’s getting late and I’m getting tired.  As musicals go, it’s no Chicago, but I liked it better than Hairspray.

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