** (out of 5)
November 23, 2005
Anthony Rapp as MARK COHEN
Adam Pascal as ROGER DAVIS
Rosario Dawson as MIMI MARQUEZ
Jesse L. Martin as TOM COLLINS
Wilson Jermaine as ANGEL DUMOTT
Heredia as SCHUNARD
Idina Menzel as MAUREEN JOHNSON
Tracie Thoms as JOANNE JEFFERSON
Taye Diggs as BENNY
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Chris Columbus
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
One of the best things I can say about “Rent” is that at least it pulled director Chris Columbus from the Harry Potter franchise. At least with a director that I’m not terribly fond of, he didn’t end up suppressing the quality of another Potter film.
“Rent” is based on the Broadway musical of the same name, which in turn is based on Puccini’s “La Boheme.” Instead of a historical European setting, this film focuses on a gaggle of Bohemian artists in a run-down area of New York City.
I’ve never seen the original stage production, but my bet would be this is a similar experience to watching last year’s “Phantom of the Opera.” If you happen to be a huge fan of the stage production, you’ll probably like this movie. At least that seemed to be the case for the people in the screening I attended. Of course, going to a show like that can be annoying when the people behind you are singing the lyrics to the songs along with the film.
The songs weren’t bad. Not all of them were great, but most of them were pretty decent, including numbers like “Tango Maureen” (my personal favorite). The choreography was good too, especially in the large production number “Via La Boheme.” Ultimately, it wasn’t the Broadway elements that bothered me with this film. It was the story and characters.
The story revolves around these modern Bohemians at the end of the 1980s. AIDS is running rampant through the community of heroin addicts and sexually liberated artists. In fact, things are so bad that half of the characters have AIDS. It’s a bit of ironic silliness when two characters meet, and one says that he’s off to a meeting of AIDS patients just for the other to say he has AIDS too.
In last year’s film “Team America: World Police,” the filmmakers poked fun at “Rent” by having one of the actor characters starring in a stage play that featured a song with lyrics: “AIDS, AIDS, AIDS! We all have AIDS!” Not having seen “Rent,” I never realized how accurate that spoof was. In this story, AIDS was more common than the flu.
Part of the story involves one character putting on a performance art show to protest business development in the area. This whole section could have been excised from the film. It may have worked on Broadway, but in the movies, it was just tedious. It seemed to be what a modern Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney musical would turn into if the characters were hooked on heroin and AZT.
I will hand it to the filmmakers that at least it wasn’t as preachy as it could have been. But in a strange way, that was the weird part. AIDS was such a heavy element in the film, but it was taken so lightly by the characters. It was so bad that in one part, when two AIDS patients break up, another character swoops in and starts a relationship with the girl. It was as if he said, “I’m healthy and rich and all, but I want to bang that AIDS girl!”
One of the criticisms I’ve always had with Chris Columbus’s films is that he just doesn’t establish an emotional connection. I may be in the minority on this, because when AIDS characters start dropping like flies, the rest of the audience was in tears. I, however, just didn’t care about them.
It’s not that I don’t like a movie in which the characters wallow in their own self pity. I love pathetic characters… in the right setting. But the characters in “Rent” were so pathetic that I just didn’t have the energy to like them.
With the politically charged AIDS focus and previous success on Broadway, “Rent” is sure to garner plenty of award nominations. However, like the substandard film “Philadelphia” which rode to success more on its subject matter than substance, “Rent” is going to be overrated by some.