Rent (2005) Chris Columbus

Production Budget: $40 million

Worldwide Gross: $31 million

Okay, let’s get this joke out of the way first.

Rent was originally a stage musical set in 1980’s New York City. We follow a group of young artists and musicians trying to get by in the shadow of the AIDS epidemic. The musical turned out being one of the most popular musicals of all time and has had one of the longest runs on Broadway. Many directors were in line to direct the movie adaptation including Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese (seriously, that would have been awesome), but instead they went with Chris Columbus. Many of the original cast were brought back for the movie with the exception of Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms who were replacements.

It should be noted I haven’t seen the original Broadway production so I can only judge this version.

Now I will say that the musical is probably my least favorite genre. I love many musicals (it is not like I am biased against all) but it is certainly harder for me to get into the spirit of that kind of movie than in other genres. Now I will not go into all the reasons why, but I will say the ones I like are not your typical big budget Rogers and Hammerstein stuff. Despite all my reservations on the genre, I ended up liking Rent.

The part I liked the most (probably shouldn’t be too much of a shock) is the music. It is a rock opera which I guess suits my tastes a bit better. One problem I usually have is that there is rarely a short musical. I’m a big believer in not overstaying your welcome and with musicals doubly so. It doesn’t help that most of the time the show is stretched out with songs that are bland and unmemorable. I was surprised at how many songs I really liked out of this movie. I won’t list them all out because the whole movie is almost songs and we would be here all day. There were a few bad ones that were a slog to get through but for the most part I’m a fan of the soundtrack. That being said, I still think it is a bit of a chore to sit through 2 hours and 20 minutes.

I will be generous and simply say Rent’s plot is lacking and not delve into any colorful metaphors. I can see many people being hung up by the lack of an involving story and questionable plot threads. One plot is about the romance of Roger (Adam Pascal) and Mimi (Rosario Dawson). Roger is a recovering drug addict musician who has an on again off again romance with his neighbor who is still a drug abuser. The story would have you think Roger is wrong in not wanting to date Mimi and for *gasp* judging her. But why is it wrong that a recovering addict (who was made one by a former girlfriend) wouldn’t want a bad influence in his life? Furthermore why is it a bad thing to want to stop someone on a self destructive path and not act like an enabler? Another romance is about Maureen and Joanne. They are engaged but Joanne has an issue with Maureen’s constant flirting. Maureen makes the argument that is just the way she is, that she loves Joanne, and no matter what she says she will always be in Joanne’s bed at the end of the day. The movie yet again takes the wrong stance and claims Joanne is the one who is wrong. She is the one who being so judgmental and unwavering. The problem is that Maureen cheats with everyone she has dated and is clearly disturbed by having a promiscuous relationship. Why is it so out of line to connect the dots and expect Maureen to be sleeping around even prior to the rehearsal dinner?  I also found the character of Maureen to be very annoying and wanted her out of the movie every time she shows up. The story of Mark is one that many people I read seem to hit on. He is a filmmaker who wants to make his own vision but is hired by some tabloid TV show (*gasp* oh no! He’s working for the man!) and feels like he is violating his art. Many others remark when we finally do see his masterpiece film it is infinitely worse than any even the crappiest vid on YouTube. It also sets up a message that can rub people the wrong way that bohemians are the only real people and all you losers that are responsible and work jobs and support your families are all corporate losers. Yeah, shame on you for wanting to support your family! Fascist tools!

Some critics say that the play was originally made as a statement about AIDS and, now in 2010, the play is dated. While I would partially agree, I still think there is plenty about the movie to enjoy. The theme is not all about AIDS. I would say the message is more about living life to the fullest and being who you really are instead of what people want you to be. The message is not just about highlighting people with AIDS but of people with different sexual orientations, artistic expressions, and other views. It is about seeing people for who they are and not one aspect of their lives like their AIDS or their sexuality. I think that aspect is more universal and transcends the 80’s.

The acting is overall good. I like they brought back the original cast although I will say it is odd to see them so old. I get the impression they are young bohemians but most of the cast are in their mid to late 30’s. It doesn’t ruin anything but its a minor quibble. I also get a minor chuckle that Adam Pascal kind of sounds like Tenacious D at times but I digress. Jesse Martin (who I really only saw in Law & Order) almost steals the show in one song and is great. I also really like Rosario Dawson who, despite not having much musical experience (to my knowledge), is a good singer.

Chris Columbus does an alright job, and that’s about it. Just alright. He does enough to translate the story to the big screen and no more. One thing I really wish is if there was more visual flair in some of the musical scenes. I’m not asking to go Moulin Rouge overboard, but I would like some more choreography and vision to them. It is not bad, but I really would have liked a more daring person behind the camera.

I know I bash this movie a lot but I did like it. I will probably buy it and it has inspired me to seek out a DVD of the Broadway production. I would recommend it to people that love Rent. That being said, its not a great adaptation and it has some minor flaws that I think a better director could have addressed.

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