Saturday, November 26, 2005

Movie Review: Rent

United States, 2005
U.S. Release Date: 11/23/05
Running Time: 2:15
Rated: PG-13 (Profanity, mature themes, violence, sexual situations, brief nudity)
Cast: Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Tracie Thoms

Director: Chris Columbus
Producers: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Robert De Niro, Mark Radcliffe, Jane Rosenthal
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, based on the musical play by Jonathan Larson
Music: Jonathan Larson
Studio: Columbia Pictures

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The best thing that can be said about Rent is that it’s faithful to the award-winning Broadway musical. Conversely, it is easy to argue that Rent is too faithful of an adaptation—bringing its lack of character development and hammy stage theatrics along as baggage. Yes, I have seen Rent on Broadway, and yes I enjoyed it; after all, live on stage is the very medium to see Rent shine. On the other hand, as a film, Rent fails to exhilarate the viewer, yield a reasonable running-time, and light the candle within.

Set in the East Village of New York City, in the year 1989, Rent chronicles the lives of eight closely-knit friends from one Christmas to the next. Mark (Anthony Rapp) is an aspiring filmmaker, whose Jon Bon Jovi look-alike roommate, Roger (Adam Paschal), can’t seem to find the inspiration to complete a rock song on his guitar. Roger is stricken with AIDS and scared to start a relationship with Mimi (Rosario Dawson), an exotic dancer and heroin addict who lives in their building. However, considering the two roommates’ friends Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin) and Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) are also stricken with the disease, yet still carry on with love for one another, they provide all with hope.

Meanwhile, once Mark’s girlfriend Maureen (Idina Menzel) leaves him for a woman named Joanne (Tracie Thoms), Mark attempts to warn Joanne that her new lesbian lover has a hard time being faithful. Joanne takes some convincing, but soon realizes that retaining Maureen as a life partner will be a difficult task. Nevertheless, a more complicated undertaking plagues them all: the group of friends must avoid eviction from their former friend Benny (Taye Diggs), and learn to appreciate their lives day-in and day-out.

Six of its eight principals are original cast members from the 1996 world premiere. The two new additions are Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms, and ironically, these two boast the best vocals and emit the strongest acting emotions. Jesse L. Martin, in the role of Tom Collins, fares well in voice, but looks too old to be convincing. Wilson Jermaine Heredia stands out as Angel, the drag-queen with a caring heart, but truthfully, the Utz chips promotion is more memorable than any individual’s performance.

As for Idina Menzel who covers the part of Maureen, watching her air-suck a cow’s udder is definitely the low-point of her horrendous “artistic” performance piece. If the director wanted to embarrass Idina and cause the entire audience to be unable to stifle their overwhelming laughter, then here are two words for Mr. Columbus: mission accomplished. Personally, I could have also done without seeing her pale tattooed buttocks.

Jonathan Larkin’s original score is charging, yet mostly mediocre. While songs like “Seasons of Love,” “Rent,” “La Vie Boheme,” and even “Out Tonight” segueing into “Another Day” don’t necessarily disappoint, the majority of Rent’s numbers feel juvenile and affected. Lyrically, Rent attempts to bask in the profound and the political, but most of the words come out as spoon-fed schmaltz. While the film focuses on the effects of drug use, AIDS, and poverty, it fails to leave a lasting impression—despite continually driving home the “No day but today” theme.

In comparison to the musicals of recent-past, Rent doesn’t hold up. While Chicago cleverly incorporated its musical numbers into its script, Moulin Rouge dazzled the eye and ear, and even The Phantom of the Opera displayed a few positives in making the leap from stage to film. However, with Rent, the pauses between its musical numbers constantly deaden the pace of the film. Just as the audience senses minor emotions of elation, the screen fades to black and we are forced to wait around awhile for the next song to start.

On the whole, Rent is merely a stage show captured on camera, and the close-ups don’t do the thirtysomething leads any justice to the twentysomething parts they are playing. It also doesn’t help that the film closes with both the most ridiculous resurrection of all time and a documentary film that looks like a few snapshots carelessly thrown together. Plus, the film feels like its 525,600 minutes long.

Certainly there will be “Rentheads” who are disappointed, “Rentheads” who can’t wait for the DVD to be released, and “Non-Rentheads” (virgins to the experience) who either immensely enjoyed themselves or weren’t impressed. But, the bottom line is “Renthead” or not, Rent – as a major motion-picture – is largely cornier than a five dollar bucket of popped kernels and cheesier than a nacho tray full of processed orange goo. (** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2005