Hey folks, Harry here with New Yorker and all around lover of life, Sheldrake and his look at Chris Columbus' cinematic adaptation of RENT. I'm very very curious about this film, I see it next Monday night - and I've got genuine questions about it. Does it play outside the urban centers of America today in an environment where so many of the "issues" that are dealt with in this film have been so demonized by "the heartland"? Then... has Chris Columbus done this incredibly intense and personal work justice? Well, those are questions that only the opening of the film and my own personal viewing can answer for me, but certainly - the film hit Sheldrake like a pissed off dominatrix at 3 in the morning. He's written, what can only be called a dissertation on his experience with RENT - but the short of it is... He Loved It. After his review is another, less enthused take. But it's way way way down there...
RENT: THE MOVIE
Director: Chris Columbus
Broadway Play: Jonathan Larson
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky and Chris Columbus
In Theaters on April 23rd
RENT, the movie rock musical, is Chris Columbus’s most heartfelt movie in years. RENT is a movie I can’t stop thinking about since I saw it last night.
RENT the movie takes the original Broadway play, turns up the amps and cranks out a picture that blends Broadway, New Gospel and Power Pop musical styles into a deeply felt and tough story about the impoverished artistic life in Alphabet City on the Lower East Side in the first year of the 1990’s; in the midst of gentrification, AIDS and drug addiction. Jane Rosenthal and Robert DiNiro produced this movie and they made damned sure it wasn’t watered down. In fact they made it tougher and truer than the play. They set it in the right place in the right period with the right actors—the way it had to be made if it were to work. Their fearless this-is-how-we-do-things-downtown New York savvy combined with Chris Columbus’s seamless pop sensibility finds the exactly the right tone for painting the gritty subject matter of the film in a way that honors, and improves on, the original stage production. Seeing the action performed on real New York streets, in the right neighborhood, in the right pre-renovation loft, made all the difference for me, and lent the songs a force that came through only once they were exploded from the proscenium arch. And Rosario Dawson as Mimi completes the job of redeeming herself from ALEXANDER that she began in SIN CITY. She rips the screen into shreds and sets your lucky beauty-drunk eyes ablaze. Anthony Rapp (remember him in Dazed and Confused?) continually surprises you when his introspective character Mark Cohen suddenly, effectively, repeatedly rocks the hell out of that character’s songs. If all you’ve seen is Law & Order, Jesse L. Martin (Ed Green on L&O) will really surprise you with his singing and dancing as Tom Collins, a graceful gay man with AIDS. Wilson Jermaine Heredia, our generation’s Joel Gray, is the wistful, doomed, anarchic, cross-dressing soul-center of the movie’s spirit of creativity and freedom, Angel, and is Academy Award material in his performance as Angel. And Idina Menzel, the diva Maureen, the Wicked Witch of the West in Broadway’s WICKED, is brassy, bitchy, insensitive and fab-u-los-o. And, well, she pulls down her jeans and shows us her butt. The girl’s a trooper!
This movie deserves a big audience and tons of awards (for performances and directing and lighting, as well as for the screenplay and music) and will satisfy faithful fans of the Broadway musical, as well as make the story accessible for everyone who’s never been near Broadway. It’s a great grown-up holiday movie for Thanksgiving.
* * *
OUR FEATURE PRESENTATION:
Sheldrake here, reporting from the Tribeca Screening Room in New York City. A half hour ago, F----Z---- and I were in a cab screaming down the West Side highway, pointed straight downtown—all the way down, down to Tribeca, down below Franklin Street. Before we turned off to the left, we caught a glimpse of the ugly, murderous, hole between Church and West. A few days ago they carpentered the wooden trough that will make the first concrete form for the new building; wrapped it, down there, down in the mud and the dust, around the big lazy circle where the tracks will run. The construction has finally begun—though, truth be told, no now one really knows what shape the new tower(s) will take yet. It’s changed in design a few times since it was proposed. It may change again. It took—what?—10 years, more or less, to get the first one, literally, off the ground. With this one, they’ve taken four years just to decide where to stick the spade in the dirt.
By the end of the 1980’s, in the years when murders were small, the old towers rose over the city and glowed like twin nightlights on the black downtown space, and there were many spades digging into, and many hands grabbing at, the New York muck. After a long darkness the lights were turning on all over the bottom of the island, in Soho, in Tribeca, even at night near Wall Street. Money began to accumulate and flow in to the streets and trains, into the buildings, into the lofts. Trickles at first, then rivulets and, eventually, rivers, then, by the middle of the decade, torrents, floods of money--a high tide of dollars pulsed through the city. When the undertow hit it swept away anyone who couldn’t find something to grab onto.
RENT is a movie about a group of people who are living on a figurative roof above the floodtide, watching the terrible waters pull back out and trying desperately not to fall into them—into the crush between the forces of AIDS, gentrification, drug addiction and—as bad for some—conformity. Some of them have already fallen, and are falling faster, and will fall faster yet until they fall away forever.
It gave me one of the most personal and intense movie experiences I’ve had since my pick at the Tribeca Film Festival, LAURA SMILES, or VITAL at our Asian Film Festival in June. It’s taken me five days to write this and I go a long way around to make my points in what follows, but stay with me and I’ll try to make the effort to read this “review” (or whatever you want to call this) worth it for you.
* * *
Once upon a time a man named Jonathan Larson found out that his friend Matthew O’Grady had AIDS. He took careful notes and wrote songs and made a big Broadway musical called RENT about a group men and women in their early thirties who live in Alphabet City (that’s what we call Avenue A, B and C) in New York City. These characters in RENT live in a big loft and don’t pay rent because they’re bohemians and don’t have any money. Some of them are dying of AIDS, some of heroin addiction, some of despair. They have to live through it and their friends have to watch. The relationships they’ve formed in the past bear them up for awhile, but eventually even those are smashed by the virus, or by the addiction, or by their own dysfunctional personalities. Anyway you look at it, they’re facing their own deaths, of their lives or their expectations of life, and the death of their group.
Jonathan finished his play, found producers and financiers and got it ready to premier on Broadway. Then, completely unexpectedly, Jonathan died of a heart ailment and then a few months later RENT was a big, fat, fashionable hit that everyone either loved or hated.
RENT is the kind of thing you’re supposed to write before you die, even if you don’t know you’re dying. Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it.
No day but today.
* * *
Famously, RENT takes place on a handful of days in the space of one year. A lot can change in a year. In ten years. In a lifetime.
* * *
10 years ago, May 1996. RENT is in its first month on 46th Street. I’d bought the tickets months before—not because I had any idea that the show would be a smash hit, but because I’d started seeing a new woman (a gamine cabaret dancer named Heather who sang like a boid, if anyone cares) and I needed someplace to take her. Six months later she was gone and something was broken inside me, but the tickets were still good at the door; so, when the day came and I couldn’t find a date, I gave my pal Patrick McMullan a call and we went down to see a matinee. There were already signs afoot that the show was destined for success, based on the number of well-known faces that were packed into the lobby. Patrick’s pocket snapshot camera nearly melted down with papparizistic (oh, happy neologism!) joy.
Then we went in to see the show and, when it was over, although the rest of the crowd was ecstatic, both our reactions to what we’d seen and heard were mostly negative. I’ve spent a couple of days thinking about why I love this movie so much—and I do love it, in a way I haven’t loved a movie in some time—and how it came out of a play that I didn’t like. Let me talk about that a little.
In the 1980s Patrick—who is now the best-known entertainment/fashion event photographer in New York (www.patrickmcmullan.com) –and I both spent most of our late teens and twenties downtown below Fourteenth Street. We’re children of, and experts about (see Patrick’s book So80s [HARRY PUT THE LINK HERE]) that period. We lived it, and we know—lived—its sensibility. I say this so as to lend weight to my next statement: my biggest problem with RENT on Broadway was that (so I thought then) the people RENT depicted would never in a million years have gone to see RENT. The music of that period, in that place, down around Downtown Beirut was pure thrash metal and hardcore. They did not listen to hopeful, lovely songs about finding beauty in each day and hour we lived. The mood was nihilistic and hopeless—we were living at the end of time, you see, waiting for nuclear winter—not gentle, humane and tremulously defiant.
That dissonance really threw me and I never thought much about the play again. I watched its rise to cultural significance from a distance.
Now I’ve seen the movie version and loved it. What changed?
So80s link Click
* * *
Now, November 2005. I’m sitting in the Tribeca Grill on Greenwich Street after seeing the movie in the screening room upstairs, having coffee and homemade bread with olive oil, sitting with F----- Z-----. An astonishingly fit and handsome Baryshnikov is walking around in another section of the restaurant talking to people at another table. Otherwise we’re in a celebrity free zone.
F----- thinks RENT is a little long—2:15—and that may impact it in the theaters. It could lose twenty minutes and stick the songs on the DVD version. I, for one, could do without the Tango Maureen. On the other hand, that was F--- Z---‘s favorite number in the movie.
I see the producer’s problem. Individually, all the stuff on screen works really well. I mean, REALLY well. Chris Columbus’s direction elevates the material to a new level and at the end of the process there’s not much there to cut. There’s no song you want to cut, and there’s no song you really can cut because every song is integral and advances the story. It’s long and open in its structure, but it’s a tight piece, not a sloppy piece. It’s an opera, not a musical with hummable tunes. It’s long because it’s a complicated story and it takes time to tell the tale. I got a bit restless at certain points, sure—but a minute later something great would come along and drag me back in again. One of those drag-me-back moments came with the cast’s performance of my favorite song in the movie, LE VIE BOHEME—the song that spits out the value system that underlies the characters actions and beliefs. It was also the song where I GOT IT, where it began to dawn on me where I’d gone wrong in 1996—about the play, I mean.
I say all this out loud to F------. F----- blinks in the way he does when he’s talking to someone pretty and stupid. “You know it IS based on La Boheme. Puccini. Right?”
La Boheme is an opera by Giacomo Puccini (Tosca, Madam Butterfly, etc.), first performed in 1896. In the opera, a poet, Rodolfo, loves a girl named Mimi, and an artist named Marcello used to love a narcissist named Musetta. In RENT a songwriter, Roger, loves a girl named Mimi and guy named Mark Cohen who’s making a home movie with a Bolex used to love a narcissist named Maureen. Benoit, the landlord in LB is replaced by Benny in RENT, and so on. I saw LA BOHEME at the Metropolitan Opera a few years back. Incredible, rich, as in money, production. Tickets were, I think, two-hundred a pop. At one point it looks like there are three hundred people—maybe five or so six-floor walk-ups worth—on stage. There might well be. It’s New York.
“Ah,” I said, “that’s why Le Vie Boheme! That song in the movie!” F--- Z--- just looks at me—I can tell he’s having one of those moments when he wonders if maybe he’s wasting his time.
Over at the next table, a woman talking to Baryshnikov scoops up some hummus and eats it right out of a spoon.
Click here to read the story of La Boheme. Click
RENT is not, strictly speaking, a retelling of LA BOHEME. It uses the structure and character sketches of LA BOHEME for the basic plot points and characters, but it’s related to LA BOHEME in the same way – come to think of it, pretty much exactly the same way—as WEST SIDE STORY is related to ROMEO AND JULIET. By using the archetype, RENT accrued to itself immediate legitimacy and the claim that the material referred to some kind of eternal struggle, and so it does, at least for as long as there are landlords. The common message of RENT and LA BOHEME is the same as that stated in another rock opera: there will be poor always, pathetically struggling, look at the good things you’ve got.
One thing that’s really GREAT about this movie—what worked for me so well—is that LA BOHEME is finally completely digested and you get a story where you’re so wrapped up with the characters that you don’t give a damn that the writer thought he was James Joyce rewriting a Greek myth. RENT is just a great, true downtown New York story. I’ve always thought that when you see a rock opera like this one, at some point you should forget that you’re hearing music at all—you should be wrapped up in your concern for the fate of the characters and, in RENT, your horror for what must come. RENT the movie does that for me.
I think it took all ten years of performing this play onstage to get ready to make the movie. It would have been a mistake to make it one minute sooner.
* * *
When I saw the play RENT in 1996, I thought the music was inauthentic for the characters and the place and the time. Now I think I just had a hard time making a difference between the hardcores and their music, on the one hand, and people like me, for example, who seek balance rather than the extreme experiences (who needs to seek them? They find me without my looking for them.) and who don’t make their identity out of cultural artifacts on the edges of anarchic experience. Somehow, I’d handed the reigns of sincerity and authenticity over to a cultural crew whose music I couldn’t stand. There’s always an element of bullying from the hardcore musical crowd, in the same way that there’s out-front criminality and thuggishness from the hip-hop crowd. Their claim is always “we have integrity and you don’t,” and it’s essentially a fascist claim—they carry the true Aryan bloodline. Somehow, in my mind, the Mohawks and Tattoo folks had come to stand as the “real” representatives of that time and place, when in fact, that part of town was filled with people like me, too. Like the people in RENT. In, reality the hardcores were few and we were many. This fact carried little weight with me at the time; so when I bought the cultural hegemony of the thrashers, I also bought, implicitly, their critique of people like me—that we were “sell-outs,” whatever that meant. Now I think it meant, simply, that we weren’t depressed and the hardcores were. In my case, it meant I had a job I liked and a basically optimistic view of life and love and the world. Now, that sounds to me like mental health; back then, it felt to me as if a curtain had fallen between me and what others called “authenticity” and I couldn’t penetrate it.
Anyway, who gets to decide what’s authentic? If you’re going to take a snapshot of a moment in time, the real test can only come later. Was it true to the time? Does it tell the audience it’s playing for about things the way they really were? When you look at it now, does it evoke that time for you? Now, in 2005, RENT feels more authentic about the period to me than some of the movies that were made in the 1980’s that seem too…stylized. THE HUNGER. LIQUID SKY. ERASERHEAD. BLUE VELVET. They live on the edge, all right, but it’s on the edge of an artsy and dark view of humanity—not on the edge of poverty, illness and loneliness, the place where most human beings live. RENT’s musical choices ARE correct for these characters and—just as important—for communicating this story to its audience. The music in RENT the movie isn’t just good enough—it’s PERFECT for the material, and it helps that that they’ve brought back the original performers, the ones who know Larson’s play now as an intimate part of them. It’s that intimacy with the music and the story that they’ve developed over the years that gives Chris Columbus, as a filmmaker, what he needs when he goes into the close-ups. The staginess is long gone from these performances – these actors ARE these performances by now, and they’re committing the work of years, for most of them, to film for its final form, the form audiences will remember it in from now on.
What changed in me, in the material that made me see RENT clearly this time?
* * *
1990, one day in RENT’s year.
A lifetime. What is that? What does that mean to a someone in their early thirties, dying of AIDS? We came here to the City because we heard it was a good place for artists—for the free; downtown, the Village, the galleries, the tolerance—and now the New York of the Mind we came to live in is dying, falling around us. The lights are going dark.
This morning you were alive, Angel. And now you’re dead. You were so real when you were here and now you’re gone.
A lot can change in one lifetime, right, Tom? Especially when it’s short and not yours.
Half of the time we’re gone we don’t know where, and now you’re the only living boy in New York.
* * *
Hard facts about Mark Cohen and his friends. They love New York City in a silly and romantic way and they can’t afford to live here. They haven’t grown up and taken responsibility for their own lives. They act like spoiled children. They expect to be supported for free in the most expensive city in the world, in a city that is about nothing but money and power and who’s on first, and they think the people who want them to pay rent are bad people. They think life is for exploration and artistic adventure and things will just take care of themselves and love is all you need, love is all you need, love is all you need…
No one told them there would be consequences for their actions. And now their lack of good information is killing all of them—the way lack of good information makes people not protect themselves from AIDS and any stuff that kills children and other living things.
Before you go to sleep tonight, pray for Africa.
* * *
November, 2004. One year ago. I see a screening of another movie and send in a random review to one H. Knowles. Harry and I get to know each other a little, he invites me to write some more for the site. I’d lost faith in my writing but Harry and another brand new friend of mine, one in New York, they encourage me. And in some way the lights come on all inside me. Whatever broke in there in 1996 gets fixed.
* * *
Now, November 2006. These days I shoot a lot of pictures at night, on the streets of New York. Available light only, guess it’s a matter of principle for me: shadows are delicate sensitive tissue and only a barbarian damages them or cuts them away. I open up the aperture (f4.0 or 5.6), slow down the shutter speed, move the white balance to blue (to correct for the streetlamp’s mercury vapor light red-shift) and use ISO 800 or 1600. Then I press a button to let light come into the black box in my hands.
DiNiro and Rosenthal know how important it is to tell a story set in the streets of New York on the the streets themselves. I had a huge, visceral thrill when I saw Mark Cohen speeding through the streets on his bicycle. When I saw Mimi and Roger jumping back and forth between the windows of their ruined lofts, the scenes carried the drama of desperate, dangerous attraction far better than the show’s stage sets ever did. Real New York gives this thing a studded-steel backbone that the play lacked. This is no longer Puccini, it’s Wagner.
Here’s one way to look at why I like the movie better: the stage was the wrong medium for the piece all along. I love the stage, but it seems to me to work best, in a post-cinematic age, for stuff that’s either more fanciful or smaller than RENT the play is. RENT the play, however it sells itself, is not a dancin’ and singin’ and stomp your feet Broadway songfest. It borders on tragedy and works overtime to pull a hopeful message out of the gloomy material in the face of black despair. The characters and the songs express hope because AIDS etc has made the choice binary, and the other choice is, frankly, suicide. In Tim Robbins movie about the Mercury Theater, CRADLE WILL ROCK, there’s a final shot that shows the Mercury actors expressing fear that New York City will turn into one neon lit corporate-run monstrosity , then the camera pans up to show us the night sky of modern New York, which has indeed become that. Something similar is going on with RENT when we see it now; a war was once fought over New York. One side won. This is a story about those who lost. RENT would have played well for an audience sitting through a nuclear winter. It may yet.
But a better way to see things, probably, is that the stage production was part of the polishing process that led to the fine finish on RENT the movie. The actors had time—more than enough time—to make their performances perfect. The producers and director had time to think about how they’d make the movie, while they watched multiple performances of the play. And the time was taken to let the cultural inertia build around RENT the play until its proponents could command the financial and artistic resources needed to make the transformation and to do the source material justice.
Too, my understanding of myself has changed. No Day But Today is the philosophy of a man facing the fact of his own death – facing existence as it really is. Literally, existentialism. The flip side of that coin is something like Zen Buddhism – “Be Here Now” – or a twelve-step program, “One Day At a Time.” I’m not sure how I felt about No Day But Today in 1996, but if I thought about it at all it was inflected in a bacchanalian There Is No Tomorrow, So Seek Pure Pleasure. That was about all I had back then, and one of the strange rhythms of my life turns out to be that I saw RENT the play as I was entering into an eight-year long tunnel of personal oblivion, and now RENT the movie is giving me closure on that period’s rather messy ending. I’ve run into other inflections in the last year: No Day But Today is also a way of avoiding connections in human relationships, of avoiding commitment to a job, a child, a friend, a project. No Day But Today is a very tricky—possibly life-saving—possibly nihilistic—little pensee. Today my understanding of it is: love the ones you’re with, you may not get another chance.
Before you carve that in stone, I mean, literally, today, that’s my understanding of it. I have a new one whenever I wake up. Sometimes even when I step out for coffee.
Finally, time itself has changed RENT the movie—and the play. RENT as a musical is significant now for a different reason than when it came out – then, it was pretty much a story of my contemporaries. Now, it’s important as an archetype of the time—it’s telling not just the individual stories of the characters, but all our stories—what we were like back then, what the place we lived in was like, and carries the same cry that poetic messages carry through time, “we were here...we lived…remember us…”
* * *
The year is 1989 and it may as well have been a lifetime ago. The city was a different place, a city getting back on its feet after a fifteen-year reign of punches had knocked down its economy. Apartments on Amsterdam Avenue uptown were cheap. I was living with the lovely nurse (“St. Vincent’s nurses are precise”) Monica B----- and the superintelligent Yellow Labrador, Sweet William--whose feat of “staying” while I walked two blocks away has never been equaled, in my experience, by dog or man—and who, once, when left alone, out of a closet full of clothes, picked out the Jean Paul Gautier couture, and nothing less, to rip to shreds. Monica, she left years ago. On our last day living together we went toy shopping and in a Toys-R-Us on Columbus we finally discovered the gentleness we needed to love each other—and it was too late. She’s since gone into a marriage that I pray has made her happier than I did. Sweet William moved to his own farm out in Connecticut and spent the rest of his days splashing around in his own private pond. Once they’d left I never saw either of them again. They were so real when they were there. And now gone.
Insert your own memory of beloved loss here. Add hindsight. Stir until done.
No day but today.
Now, November 2005.
First the bad news. Conformity won, Mark. You now make corporate videos for a large financial institution. You enjoy your work and think you’re about where you should be on your career plan, though you’re concerned about the seating arrangements in the new offices. Tom Collins’s new lover died in a Crystal Meth oven explosion. When Tom came home the first thing he saw was the torso punched halfway through a plaster wall. Now Tom’s trying to get help for his own addiction and the medicines are starting to fail him—and the coldest winter on record is coming fast—and shorter days. NYU tried to fire him and now GMHC is helping him sue the university. Maureen keeps switching between men and women when the first sign of trouble comes. She’s in still another relationship that’s starting to feel claustrophobic to her. Maureen can’t understand why people hate losing her so much. She thinks they’re just obsessed. Mimi, that snowflake on the stove, she tried homeopathic medicines and Christian Science, so the virus killed her a long time ago. Mark, you ran into Maureen on Madison Avenue the other day—you hadn’t seen each other in twelve years. She bought you a macchiato at Le Pain Quotidien and you both tried to remember Mimi’s name out loud and one of you said “Angel” instead. The other one didn’t correct the error. You stared at each other hard and felt nothing. Benny Coffin got a lot richer and is happy with a lovely wife and children—the youngest is doing work in commercials. The last anyone saw of Joanie was when Maureen went to pick up her stuff after Angel’s funeral. And as for the songwriter—Roger?—no one’s heard anything about him since he went West again after Mimi died. As far as anyone knows, he could’ve just up and disappeared.
Your production assistant asks you if you want to get a macchiato with her downstairs. You say, “sure,” and go down with her. She bought last time; fair’s fair.
No day but today. No world but this one.
This from Playbill:
Rent had its world premiere on February 13, 1996 at New York Theatre Workshop and opened at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre on April 29, 1996. Mr. Larson died unexpectedly of an undiagnosed aortic aneurysm, believed to have been caused by Marfan Syndrome, on January 25, 1996. It was ten days before his 36th birthday.
Oh, and the good news? What got fixed a year ago has been tested and stayed fixed. The lights are still on. Thanksgiving indeed.
I’m done talking to you. Go see this movie. When you walk the streets, be nice to shadows.
Ok - still with me? Harry here with the first of the two follow up reviews. This one - is less enthusiastic and more critical... here's Decimus Meridius' look...
Hey Harry, second time writer, hopefully first time
contributor, long time fan of the site. I just
thought I'd stop by with a review of Rent because I
haven't seen any yet on the site.
A couple of days ago one of my bosses at the theatre I work at told me that her and my general manager were going to see Rent. I asked if I could come along, and, surprisingly, she said yes. So, after getting there 10 minutes into the screening (luckily, they showed trailers before the movie, so we didn't miss any of it) and barely getting in, we sat down, the three of us all scattered around the theatre. Every seat in the house was filled, and by my guess, it was about 500 people.
Before I go into my review, there are some points I must make. I am a fan of the musical, but am not crazy about it to the extent of some of my friends. I am also a major Chris Columbus hater.
For those of you who don't know, Rent is a modernized version of Puccini's La Boheme. It's about eight bohemians, most of whom have AIDS, struggling in modern day East Village New York. It is a rock-opera, not a musical. This movie turns it into a musical.
The movie musical has become the "cool" thing to make again. If you look back at the 1960s, three best picture winners from that decade were musicals, and a lot more were made. However, within the last 20 years, there hasn’t been that many. After the huge success of Moulin Rouge!, things started to change. The next year, Chicago won best picture. Last year, we had Phantom of the Opera, a big let down and the major indication to me that Rent wasn't going to be that good. If I learned anything from Phantom, it is that good direction is key. Joel Schumacher is not a very good director, therefore, no matter how good the source material is, the movie can, and more than likely will, come out bad. As soon as I heard Columbus was directing and co-writing Rent, I lost a lot of hope in the project. This is the man who directed Bicentennial Man and had never directed a musical before, just like Schumacher. Then the first trailer came out and a lot of hope came back. It's been an on-off thing ever since. I now know that Columbus really can't direct very well, or write.
The source material for Rent is fantastic, full of vivid, three-dimensional characters and great music. Columbus just seems to not understand it at all. He seems to make every wrong move possible. He makes cuts that throw things completely off, specifically, he cuts a major part of the plot in which two of the main characters have a huge falling out. He changes some songs to dialogue. He shifts the focus from important characters to unimportant events. Even when he is showing the important events, the event only takes up half the time. The other half is taken up showing how all the other characters feel about what we should be watching. The editing of this movie is just plain awful. He can’t stay with one shot for more than a second in most cases, and when he does use a shot longer than that, it is awkward and unnecessary.
Rosario Dawson is the other new addition to the cast. She has the vocal talent to play Mimi, but none of the emotional depth. She is out of her league with some talented actors, and is ultimately miscast. Other than Angel, Mimi is the most emotional character in the play, and Rosario just isn’t right to play her. She is totally unbelievable as a drug-using, HIV + nineteen year old. She has no chemistry with Adam Pascal, who plays her love interest Roger.
However, it is not all bad news to proclaim. There are some good things in this movie. The performances of Wilson Jermaine Heredia as the transvestite Angel and Jesse L. Martin as his boyfriend Collins are fantastic. They have a chemistry together that no other couple in the movie comes close to. Tracie Thomas and Idina Menzel as Joanne and Maureen, respectively, are drastically underused. Thomas is one of two new additions to the cast (the other being Rosario Dawson), and she outdoes the woman she took over for. Idina does a fantastic job as the flirtatious temptress Maureen. She is incredibly talented as both a singer and an actress. She brings a deepness to her character that only a few others in the cast do.
The music and the book are incredible. Jonathan Larson, who wrote the music and the book of the play, created something incredible 10 or 15 years ago. Most of it is kept the same, but, in my opinion, not enough of it is kept the same.
Overall, I’d have go give Rent a slightly positive review, even with all the bad things I’ve said about it. It’s better than a lot of stuff playing right now, but if you’re deciding between it and something like Harry Potter or Walk the Line, don’t choose Rent. You can wait for it.
Lastly we have Alli's look, which is the most negative of them all. We just have these three for now. They all have good things and a few bad things to say. Sounds interesting...
Hey Harry -
Long time reader, first time I?ve ever been to anything that might be worth writing about for your site - a preview (11/10) for Rent, the movie drama geeks have been creaming themselves over for the past decade. I?m not going to lie, I?m a fan of the stage show, have the original cast recording, and have been following the movie version since Spike Lee was supposed to direct and Justin Timberlake was supposed to star. So you can probably guess how much this hurts to say:
In short, the movie blows.
But in the interest of being fair, I?ve enclosed a handy-dandy pro and con list, that maybe will help you (me?) view it more objectively.
- The cast. As you know, 6/8 of the main cast is made up of original Broadway cast members and, even though it?s been ten years, most of them still look good. They?re not getting carded any time soon but for the most part they?re passably dewy and wrinkle-free. And the obvious happiness they have at working together again is infectious.
Anthony Rapp holds it all together as Mark (and hasn?t aged a day since Adventures in Baby-sitting). Adam Pascal plays angst well enough as Roger, although I?m still not quite sure about the hair, and has better chemistry with Rapp than Rosario Dawson, who blends seamlessly into the original cast as Mimi.
I have no idea why Jesse Martin (Collins) is stoned for most of the movie, because the scenes where he doesn?t have a joint in his hand are his best - he?s probably the only character who actually loses charisma as the movie goes on. Although he does win points for the best entrance (?Merry Christmas, bitches!?). When his chemistry with Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) clicks, it?s a magical moment. ?When? being the operative word here.
Unfortunately, Idina Menzel (Maureen), Tracie Thoms (Joanne), and Taye Diggs (Benny) aren?t really given much to do except act flirty, perturbed, and snooty, respectively. But they do it well. And Sarah Silverman makes a totally surprise appearance in a throwaway role. I?m still trying to figure out if she was stunt-cast or not.
- ?Over the Moon,? Maureen?s big number. It?s one of the few intentional laugh out loud moments of the film, and the TV props were genius.
- ?Without You,? a number that doesn?t use flashback scenes to the nth degree of cheese, showing the decline of Mimi and Roger?s relationship and Angel?s health.
- ?I?ll Cover You (Reprise)? - Yes, it?s supposed to be sad and emotional (it?s a funeral!), so it?s not hard to feel a tad manipulated. But Jesse Martin is grief stricken, and watching all of the estranged lovers realize they really do love each other made even me teary-eyed.
- The costumes. I know the movie takes place in 1989, but it?s nice that they didn?t go totally overboard with side ponytails and legwarmers. The most dated looks are the high-waisted pants and flouncy skirts Rosario wears.
- Rosario Dawson. Definitely one of the highlights for me - she?s young, she?s hot, she can sing, and holy shit does she pelvic thrust a lot.
- The director. Chris Columbus was just the wrong man for this film. He never comes close to capturing the energy and joy the stage version has, and didn?t even try to make a movie separate of the original show. He includes too many in-jokes, too many pointless shots, and, when in doubt, encourages the overacting the show can be prone to. How did he get this job again?
- The pacing. The editing and order of the movie takes away so much energy, especially in the musical numbers. The worst choice was beginning the movie with ?Seasons of Love,? a song that honestly has no place in the plot line and just zaps the momentum. They should?ve kept it over the end credits. And the riot scene is so poorly staged that I was embarrassed.
- The choreography. I?m not asking for complete realism here, but do I really have to believe that Rent characters can sing and harmonize perfectly while biking furiously/doing back flips/shooting up? When the choreography isn?t overwrought and unbelievable, it?s boring. ?Santa Fe? is a great song and Jesse Martin sings it well, but why did they instruct him to act like a monkey and swing through a (moving?) subway car? And the potential for ?Light My Candle? is never realized as Mimi and Roger meet, crawl on the floor, and stumble over each other with seemingly no point.
- The script. I?ve never read Perks of Being a Wallflower, so I?m not familiar with Steve Chbosky?s style. Nonetheless, the transitions between songs were shaky and uneven, and the relationships between characters are never fully explained - Mimi and Angel meet (for the first time?) during the course of the movie, but then you learn that they were friends before then, even though they gave no indication of that when they met. Stuff like that. Too much of the script relies on songs that are now spoken as dialog and although there are moments of originality and wit, they?re fewer than I was hoping for.
- The gay wedding scene/reception/banquet. This had no part of the original show, adds nothing to the movie, and just seems like something that was put in there to make a point (even if we never find out what it is). There?s nothing more awkward than watching a bunch of East Village punks having tea at the Waldorf Astoria.
- The totally out of left field fantasy tango. Again, with the character relationships - Joanne and Mark have just met, they don?t like each other, and then they start dancing. OK. But then Mark falls down, hits his head, and suddenly he and Joanne are doing an elaborate group dance directly lifted from Moulin Rouge?s ?Tango Roxanne.? It?s the only moment in the movie like this, and it sticks out painfully.
- ?What You Own,? which destroys any genuine emotion the ?I?ll Cover You (Reprise)? builds. I know that Roger runs away to Santa Fe, but did we really need shots of him driving along in a convertible with his golden locks blowing in the wind? It was so perfectly coordinated that it looked like a Ralph Lauren ad, and the audience members who weren?t angry were laughing out loud.
And for the people who have to know, the only major musical numbers missing are ?Christmas Bells? and ?We?re Okay.? A lot of the smaller numbers (the Voice Mails, the Tune Ups, ?You Okay, Honey??) have been incorporated into the dialog, which I?m still not sure about. As somebody who?s familiar with the show, this was distracting because all of a sudden characters would start speaking in rhyme and I?d be like ?WTF?!? But I?d be curious to hear what somebody who?s never heard the cast recording thinks.
So maybe the movie isn?t all bad - there are some good moments. But it?s not bad enough to be the next Phantom of the Opera, it?s not campy enough to be the next Rocky Horror or Newsies, and it?s not good enough to be the next Chicago. It?s.....mediocre, which is just disappointing and, somehow, even worse.
If you use this, call me Alli. Because that?s my name