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Tuesday night at 7:30 PM, I sat down to watch a sneak preview of the new musical "Rent". Seeing as how I am actively involved in musical theatre and have been a musical theatre fan since I was a child, I knew everything there was to know about "Rent" as I sat down to see how it translated to the screen. I first saw "Rent" back in 1998, on Broadway, with a cast that was probably the least known out of the shows entire run; that didn't matter...it still blew me away. I saw "Rent" again in 2004, when the touring company came through Birmingham and played the historic Alabama Theatre. I was, once again, blown away. The more and more I thought about it, the more and more I realized that I was not so much blown away by the production of the show as I was the meaning behind the show and the emotions that it invoked. "Rent" is one of those once in a lifetime musicals that comes along and really changes society in some way. This was a show that spoke to an entire generation of young people, and helped some of them with some serious problems. "Rent" is not just another musical -- it deals with homosexuality, AIDS, friendship, brotherhood, and the American spirit. It deals with all of those topics that were considered 'taboo' when the show was released back in the early 1990's. Jonathan Larson, who wrote every single note and lyric in the show, died, tragically, the day before the show went into previews, and he never had the chance to see how his show changed countless lives. With the film adaptation of this show, director Chris Columbus has done exactly what all of us fans were hoping he would do...he stayed true to the story. He took the show and transferred it to film, delivering the most satisfying movie musical I have seen in years and years, and the best film I have seen in 2005. I might be slightly bias in that this was already one of my favorite musicals, but I don't care. The feeling of watching "Rent" on the big screen was one I will not forget for a long, long while. It was well worth the wait.
The basic storyline of "Rent" centers on Mark (Anthony Rapp) and Roger (Adam Pascal), two friends -- Mark a filmmaker and Roger a struggling musician -- who share a New York apartment managed by their former roommate Benny (Taye Diggs), who married wealthy and now serves as their landlord. They have not paid rent in a year and he threatens to collect if they do not convince their friend Maureen (Idina Menzel) to cancel a protest she is staging. Coinciding with this is the arrival of their other former roommate Collins (Jesse L. Martin), who is mugged as soon as he hits town and is nursed back to healthy by a transvestite with a heart of gold, Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia). Collins and Angel form a relationship that lasts them throughout the film. A side story involves Maureen, who has recently dumped Mark for Joanne (Tracie Thoms), an attorney who is about as uptight as you would think an attorney might be. Roger forms a relationship with Mimi (Rosario Dawson), a stripper who lives downstairs and makes her intentions known from the start. "Rent" follows these eight friends as they encounter everything life throws at them, from heartbreak to romance to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. The film basically covers 'a year in the life of friends' as the song so brilliantly explains. We see how AIDS has affected the lives of all of these people, and how being broke and downtrodden can sometimes form the strongest bonds imaginable. "Rent" is very much a dark and gritty fairy tale about how life is always worth living, and how there is truly 'no day but today'.
Here's the big question -- do the musical numbers work? I think you already know that answer. From the opening title scrawl to "Seasons of Love" to the show-stopping "La Vi Boheme", every musical numbers rings true in this adaptation, and I credit director Chris Columbus and cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt for creating an atmosphere of their own, with the nightlife truly coming alive. Highlights of the film include the heartfelt and jaw dropping "No Day But Today", the high energy duet "Love Me or Leave Me" between Maureen and Joanne, and the traditional favorite "Tango Maureen", between Joanne and Mark. Each and every number is special in some way and Columbus decided to go for the whole 'break out in song for the sake of breaking out in song' routine. What Rob Marshall did with "Chicago" was inventive, but sometimes we just want to see a good old fashioned movie musical where people sing on the drop of a dime and dance all around the streets of New York City unprotested. That is exactly what they do in "Rent". Personally, my favorite sequence in the film comes during the all too anticipated funeral scene, when "No Day But Today" blends in with "Seasons of Love" in with "I'll Cover You". That scene alone sent shivers up and down my spine, something I never got during the stage production. Does that mean that I enjoyed the film adaptation better than the original stage version -- No. But, "Rent" was still good enough for me to give it my 'best of the year' stamp. I know I do that a few times every year, but "Rent" is going to be a hard act to follow.
Now, on to the performances. With the exception of Rosasio Dawson and Trace Thomas, the rest of the cast were in the original Broadway production of the film. Not only did the work one-on-one with Jonathan Larson, but also had the rare and privileged opportunity to experience many of the issues present in the script. Their energy and excitement for the project are all over the film -- you can tell they are all enjoying the hell out of it. Anthony Rapp, especially, deserves recognition for his performance, carrying most of the picture with his high-octane gestures and dance moves. Tracie Thomas proves herself quite worthy to take over the role of Joanne, Jesse L. Martin shows off some amazing vocals, and Wilson Jermaine Heredia is everything he was in the Broadway production and more. Each and every cast member did an amazing job, but it will likely be Rosario Dawson, if anyone, who is singled out by most for her accomplishments, seeing as how no one knew she had this kind of movie in her. Also, look for comedienne Sarah Silverman, who pops up in a nothing role. She obviously just wanted to be a part of this film in some capacity, and who is Chris Columbus to turn down Sarah Silverman? If you have any doubts about the performances in this film, by the time "Seasons of Love" has ended, you really don't give a damn anymore.
In conclusion, "Rent" was the most entertaining, inspiring, and engrossing cinematic experience I have had this year. I have seen the film two times and will see it a third time tomorrow. Usually, after I have seen a movie three times, I can start to quote a lot of the scenes by heart. I was quoting this film the first time I saw it, and there is something about being able to do that which puts an enormous smile on my face. "Rent" is one of those films that probably appeals to a certain demographic, a certain niche of theatre lovers. I don't care. I am one member of that niche and am proud to claim that membership. Whether or not the majority of film critics love this film is irrelevant -- the fans know what the big deal is and the fans know how amazing this film was. Jonathan Larson would be so proud. So, in closing, I will end with a lyric from my favorite song in the show, the one lyric I would single out as the meaning behind this entire show. Read: "There's only us/There's only this/ Forget regret or life is yours to miss/No other road/No other way/No day but today."
- added 12/10/2005, 05:17 AM
I couldn't stand this film. I've never seen the
play, but the acting in this just seemed so fake.
I'm not really big on musicals, but it seems like
a movie that sacrifices acting for a chance to
tell us how they are feeling through use of poorly
worded lyrics ain't exactly a work of art. That
wasn't even my biggest gripe. I had a real
problem with the character development in this
film. *SPOILER* For instance, the film doesn't
give the audience of reason to give a fuck when
the character Angel finally bites the dust. Seems
like the only thing this film cared to emphasize
about him was that he was homosexual. Then it
flips to the scene in the church where they're all
sobbing away. Meanwhile, I continue to stare at
the 'Exit' sign in the theatre which was far more
interesting, expressing the only emotion I am
feeling at that moment: boredom.
- added 12/11/2005, 04:46 PM
It is quite obvious from your statement that you
have never seen the film. "Rent" was made,
primarily, for the fans of the show, just as "Lord
of the Rings" was made, primarily, for the fans of
the book. Fans of the show loved the film version
of "Rent" because Chris Columbus stayed true to
the source material, that being the brilliant
lyrics and music from the late Jonathan Larson.
The fact that you disliked the film so much means
you just don't like the material, meaning you
would not have enjoyed the show, meaning this just
isn't something for you. How can you say they
don't make you care about the characters? There
was a reason 400 people were sobbing away when
Angel died in the theatre where I saw the film --
because it was sad. It was sad in the show and it
was sad in the film. Angel represents something
in the film...he is the martry of the film. That
is what is so sad. I truly am sorry you could not
appreciate this fine, fine film.
- added 03/29/2006, 03:07 PM
It's not often that I get giddy and excited about
a movie, but the moment I heard Rent was going to
become one, I swear I screamed. I have been in
love with the play for as long as I can remember.
I saw it on Broadway only once, some time last
year, but I had been a huge fan of the soundtrack
well before that. Though I'm sure I was the only
person in the audience who cried through the
entire second half of the film, I still managed to
take in every detail and realize the details and
special little moments that were much stronger in
the film, thanks to the amazing settings and
characterization. Though I still like the play
much better, there is not a thing I would change
about the movie. And might I say that Angel's
wonderful solo was only enhanced by the use of a
real living room setting? Though I understand that
homosexuality, AIDS, and the controversial song
lyrics are offensive to some, I find that they
only add to the realism and hard-hitting truth of
this particular story.