Rent will undoubtedly be compared to the original Broadway smash hit, and, while the songs and the ultimate message are the same; some things are better left to the imagination. Written by Jonathan Larson, who died tragically before the play debuted on Broadway, Rent is based on Puccini’s opera La Boheme, which has been copied on film many times before including Baz Lurman’s masterpiece Moulin Rouge staring Nicole Kidman. In short, Rent chronicles the trials of starving artists in New York’s East Village. As in many cases, it is best to dissect the movie on three terms: the good, the bad and the ugly.
Rent opens with a throwback to A Chorus Line. All seven characters stand equidistant from each other on a dark stage with individual spotlights from and sing the title song “Seasons of Love,” with its signature hook “525, 600 minutes.”
Perhaps the best part of seeing the film is that it is a chance to observer the original players reprising their original roles. All of the original members of the cast of Rent return in the movie, with the exception of Rosario Dawson as Mimi Marquez and Joanne (Tracie Thoms). It is a joy to see them onscreen. Idina Menzel, who plays Maureen, is the standout. A relative unknown in film, she shines on screen.
The movie strikes an uneasy balance between stage production and a glossy Hollywood picture. There are times it works, as when the bare set comes to life in a well – bare apartment. Some of the montages work, like “The Tango Maureen,” which reaches its full potential in this film. While on stage it just seemed like an awkward moment between a man and his ex-girlfriend’s new lesbian lover, the movie takes the scene to a different level. Mark (Anthony Rapp) falls and the screen fades to an imagined montage in which he, Joanne and Maureen tango with others. The grand scale of the screen in this case helps the overall mood and message of the number.
However, at other times, the film version is more detrimental to the original spirit of the Broadway production. The montage that shows Roger (Adam Pascal) running off to Santa Fe, which of course was not possible on stage, reaches new levels of cheese when put on film.
For a die hard fan, Rent, the movie, is a pale comparison to the original play. But, at the same time, it is fun to spend time in the world of Rent, with its lyrical beauty and its ultimately “love-remains-triumphant” message. This connection to the opera is made most lucidly in the song “La Vie Boheme,” when the poor struggling artists react to the comment made by Big Business Benny: “Bohemia is dead.”
But it is this uneasy feeling of looking backward that Big Business Benny cites that also hurts the overall experience of the film. The East Village inhabited by the protagonists of the film is long gone as are crack epidemics, paranoia surrounding AIDS (although one can easily argue this is still a relevant topic) and the idea that independent film is some sort of struggle. Just like the independent film of the East Village, Rent has been bought up and commercially repackaged. Released to soon to be a period piece about those “free for all ’90s” the film sometimes comes across as an out – of – place old timer reminiscing about the past.
As Rent fans flock to the theaters to see, well, the victory of bohemia over corporate America; good over evil. The failure or success of Rent treads on the oxymoron of this battle. If it does well, then people are supporting its message, but also its bottom line; in Hollywood, it’s more like 525,600 dollars to be made, instead of minutes here on earth.
Archived article by Logan Bromer
Associate Arts and Entertainment Editor