Rent (2005) / Musical-Drama
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexuality, language, drug content, and some violence (I'd rate it R)
Running Time: 135 min.
Cast: Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Rosario Dawson, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Tracie Thoms, Taye Diggs
Director: Chris Columbus
Screenplay: Steve Chbosky (based on the musical play by Jonathan Larson)
Review published December 4, 2005
The original stage play for "Rent" was loosely inspired by the play "La Boheme", and while seeing or not seeing "La Boheme" probably won't influence whether or not you enjoy "Rent", seeing "Rent", the stage production, may influence your opinion as to whether or not you enjoy Rent, the big screen adaptation. The primary reason from this stems from the one major thing that has made "Rent" such an enduring production -- the music itself. To someone that has seen and enjoyed the play, they know every lyric, every note, every cadence, and listening to the music once again in 5.1 surround sound in a booming theater conjures the good feelings they had all over again, filling them with fond memories and a sense of vibrant familiarity. People that are unfamiliar with the play and music will have vastly different reactions to it all, hearing many of the songs for the first time, some of them seeming a bit dated by almost a decade passing after they were originally composed. Their enjoyment of these songs may be strongly influenced by how much they still like the musical styles of the early to mid-90s.
So what's a critic to do when faced with the fact that some people will love a film for the very same reason that others will despise it? How does a simple "Yea" or Nay" do a movie justice when dealing with the infinite personalities, interests, and tastes of every single member of the potential audience?
Perhaps the best manner by which to conduct a proper review is to state up front that if you have any interest whatsoever for seeing Rent, my opinion is to just go see it. You may like it, you may love it, you may even be disappointed, but chances are, you'll at least not always wonder if it is for you. To those that aren't inclined to like a movie like this, never really enjoying filmed plays, musicals, or films with overt messages that come across like heavy-handed Public Service Announcements more than real stories about real people, you'll probably want to avoid this, as the music not only is unrelenting, it is the sole source of conversation among characters for most scenes. It's just a few moments of quiet drama away from a full-fledged 2 hour and 15 minute music video.
Speaking as someone that has never seen the musical on stage, or who went into this film with any preconceived notions of how it should or shouldn't be, my personal take on Rent is that it is an interesting, ambitious, but somewhat flawed endeavor that has enough good moments to recommend, but enough weaker elements to keep me from becoming ecstatic over it. It starts off energized, and even impassioned, but once the songs begin to slow down, especially as characters start to fall in love with one another, Rent's momentum as a movie also slows down with it. That's a shame, because the final forty-five minutes of the movie should have been poignantly heart-wrenching, but with every character an archetype (or, often, a stereotype), it's hard to truly relate to them as real people, and consequently, the emotional impact never allows the narrative to soar to the heights that a live performance with living, breathing people in front of you might offer.
Despite mixed feelings, I am glad to have gotten to see Rent on the big screen with a room full of people, some of them that were actually moved by the film as a whole. But not me. No tears were in my eyes, no mad dashes were made to buy the soundtrack, and in fact, I may never have the urge to watch it again in my lifetime, but there are some parts -- the good parts of the film -- that still resonate with me, and for those alone, the price of admission seems entirely justified.
-- Later filmed live with a mostly different cast in Rent: Filmed Live on Broadway (2008)
©2005 Vince Leo