Rent

"Excellent"

Rent Review


Whatever happened to the glut of movie musicals that the success of Moulin Rouge and Chicago was supposed to have unleashed upon us? Although the door for the long-moribund genre was indeed nudged open by those films, it fortunately never opened wide enough to subject us to the like of Mamma Mia! The Film or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Reloaded. Instead, studios have been fairly scrupulous about what they'll let through, and with the arrival of Rent, that's proved to be a good thing.

When Chris "Mrs. Doubtfire" Columbus was announced as the director of the evergreen 1996 rock musical - which updated Puccini's starving-artists opera La Bohème to the East Village in the late 1980s - it seemed like a bad joke. Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese had been buzzing around the project for years and getting the show's fans all excited, only to run into the usual budget/artistic/Miramax problems, not to mention a cast that was slowly getting past its prime. Handing the play over to the family-friendly Columbus seemed like admitting that the subject matter - a welter of squatting artists, homosexuality, heroin addiction, AIDS, and untimely deaths - was going to get watered down. Somehow, that didn't happen. While he's made the musical considerably cinematic, Columbus has also shown a surprising appreciation and fidelity to the source material; he should have tried directing something without children years ago.

A gritty stew of low-life artsy grunge and soaring pathos, Rent is truly operatic in that its story will move some to tears and others to bewilderment. It opens in the East Village on Christmas Eve, 1989, with guitarist Roger (Adam Pascal) and filmmaker Mark (Anthony Rapp) are trying to keep their newly-rich friend Benny (Taye Diggs) from tossing them out of the loft where he's been letting them live rent-free. The point of contention is a protest that performance artist Maureen (Idina Menzel), Mark's drama-queen former girlfriend who's now dating an uptight lawyer named Joanne (Tracie Thomas), is going to hold in a vacant lot where Benny is trying to evict homeless people from. Also in the mix are heart-of-gold drag queen Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), anarchist professor Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin) and junkie/exotic dancer Mimi (Rosario Dawson). Inside the rough framework of the fight over the rent, the story follows the arc of three relationships - Roger and Mimi, Angel and Tom, and Maureen and Joanne - shadowed by death, whether from addiction or AIDS.

The best thing Columbus has going for him is the cast, most of whom are reprising their roles from the original Broadway production. The veterans all show that in the decade or so that's passed since then they've lost none of their sparkle, most especially Martin, whose too-brief but still overpowering presence (his eyes positively twinkle in his more romantic scenes with Heredia) shows he hasn't gotten lazy after all those cushy years over at Law and Order. Rapp provides the quietly sardonic counterpoint while Pascal amps up for the big rock numbers - fine for the most part even if his hairdo is more Bon Jovi cover band than Alphabet City punk. The newcomers, Thomas and Dawson, acquit themselves well, tearing up their big numbers with a gusto that some of the older performers don't always quite have.

Columbus and his co-writer Stephen Chbosky have trimmed about a half-hour's worth of material from the stage version, and the result is a tight piece of work that moves in muscular fashion from one showstopper to the next. Gone are most of the shorter interstitial numbers connecting the bigger songs, mostly replaced with some surprisingly funny dialogue. The play has been substantially opened up, especially in the mournful last third, and mostly for the best - one exception being a rather pointless Sarah Silverman cameo. Even though purists will argue with the addition of a scene revolving around a same-sex engagement party, it not only works dramatically but shows how the filmmakers are willing to go out of their way to up the culture war ante. The pieces that haven't survived the transition from stage to screen quite as well are the ones requiring audience involvement: both Angel's big entrance song and Maureen's protest number fall completely flat in a movie theater.

Given that the current mood of the movie is either wink-wink or pastiche - Moulin Rogue, Chicago, The Producers - there's no telling how audiences will react to such a full-bore emotional work, full of tears, betrayal, death scenes, and throat-scorching arias. It would be a lie to say that Rent isn't at times all a bit much. It would also be a lie to say that it's not also one of the most refreshingly exuberant films of the year.

And they shut off the electricity, too.



Rent

Facts and Figures

Run time: 135 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 23rd November 2005

Box Office USA: $29.1M

Box Office Worldwide: $31.7M

Budget: $40M

Distributed by: Sony Pictures

Production compaines: 1492 Pictures, Columbia Pictures, Revolution Studios

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 46%
Fresh: 78 Rotten: 92

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Mark Cohen, as Roger Davis, as Mimi Marquez, Jesse L. Martin as Tom Collins, as Angel Dumott Schunard, as Maurenn Johnson, as Joanne Jefferson, as Benjamin Coffin III, as Steve, as Paul, as Alexi Darling, Daryl Edwards as Mr. Jefferson, as Mrs. Jefferson

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Movie Review

After the thunderous reception for J.J. Abrams' Episode VII: The Force Awakens two years ago,...

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Daddy's Home 2 Movie Review

Like the 2015 original, this comedy plays merrily with cliches to tell a silly story...

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

The Man Who Invented Christmas Movie Review

There's a somewhat contrived jauntiness to this blending of fact and fiction that may leave...

Ferdinand Movie Review

Ferdinand Movie Review

This animated comedy adventure is based on the beloved children's book, which was published in...

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Brigsby Bear Movie Review

Director Dave McCary makes a superb feature debut with this offbeat black comedy, which explores...

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

Battle of the Sexes Movie Review

A dramatisation of the real-life clash between tennis icons Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs,...

Shot Caller Movie Review

Shot Caller Movie Review

There isn't much subtlety to this prison thriller, but it's edgy enough to hold the...

Advertisement
The Disaster Artist Movie Review

The Disaster Artist Movie Review

A hilariously outrageous story based on real events, this film recounts the making of the...

Stronger Movie Review

Stronger Movie Review

Based on a true story about the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, this looks like one...

Only the Brave Movie Review

Only the Brave Movie Review

Based on a genuinely moving true story, this film undercuts the realism by pushing its...

Wonder Movie Review

Wonder Movie Review

This film may be based on RJ Palacio's fictional bestseller, but it approaches its story...

Happy End  Movie Review

Happy End Movie Review

Austrian auteur Michael Haneke isn't known for his light touch, but rather for hard-hitting, award-winning...

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Patti Cake$ Movie Review

Seemingly from out of nowhere, this film generates perhaps the biggest smile of any movie...

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

The Limehouse Golem Movie Review

A Victorian thriller with rather heavy echoes of Jack the Ripper, this film struggles to...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.