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Overall Rating
3.19

Awesome37.76%
Worth A Look: 6.12%
Average: 12.24%
Pretty Bad: 25.51%
Total Crap: 18.37%

7 reviews, 56 user ratings


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Rent
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Lacks the music, choreography and quiet dignity of 'Satan's Alley'"
1 stars

As faithful readers no doubt know, I have never made a secret of the fact that I am not much of a fan of movie musicals–especially the ones that have their origins on stage. And yet, I am perfectly willing to admit that I might have enjoyed some of them if I had gotten around to see them in their original incarnations. For example, I thought the recent adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” was an atrocious movie but if I had caught it live, the sheer physicality of the production might have won me over, especially if I happened to go temporarily deaf just before taking my seat. And yet, while watching “Rent,” the long-awaited film version of the show that sold millions of tickets, won numerous accolades (including the Pulitzer and the Tony) and made a legend of author Jonathan Larson when he died on the eve of its premiere, I thought it was a terrible film but I never got the sense that it lost something in the translation that I was missing. Instead, it struck me that the flaws were ones inherent to the source material itself–a poorly constructed story, singularly uninteresting characters and one of the dopiest scores ever composed–and instead of wondering what went wrong in the transition from stage to screen, I began wondering if it was possible that all of those who have sung the praises of the show over the past decade were either insane or simply cursed with atrocious taste.

A loose updating of Puccini’s “La Boheme,” “Rent” tells the story of a tightly-knit group of young bohemian types living in the East Village of New York circa 1989. Most of them are struggling to become artists–Mark (Anthony Rapp) wants to be a filmmaker and travels the streets with a dinky little Bolex, Roger (Adam Pascal) is an embittered musician who dreams of writing one perfect song and Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) is a street musician struggling, like many of his friends, with AIDS. Others in their group include HIV-positive computer genius Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin), a former roommate of Mark and Roger’s who strikes up a friendship with Angel, Mimi (Rosario Dawson), the sexy downstairs junkie who works as an exotic dancer and who has a thing for Roger and Maureen (Idina Menzel), an outspoken performance artist who used to date Mark until she dumped him for Joanne (Tracie Thoms), a slumming public advocate.<

There is no real central plot driving the film, merely a bunch of loose threads that occasionally surface and are then quickly abandoned. Much of the opening is centered on a battle between the bohos, who would rather spend their money on heroin than on rent, and the evil landlords who want to tear down their buildings in the name of redevelopment; the irony is that the landlord liaison is none other than Benjamin Coffin III (Taye Diggs), who used to be known as “Benny” in the days when he lived with Mark and Roger before selling out to the man by getting a job and a wife. At the same time, Mark struggles with the notion of selling out himself when his footage of police brutality at an anti-development rally gets the attention of a tabloid news show, Tom and Angel struggle with their disease and Maureen and Joanne struggle with their relationship–the former is a shameless flirt with everyone she encounters (“There will always be women in rubber flirting with me!”) while the latter is a massive control freak. Meanwhile, back in the urban jungle, Mimi continues to flirt with Roger but he is so haunted by his memories of a past love gone bad and his inability to create his perfect song that he cruelly casts her aside and doesn’t realize that he truly loves her until it is almost too late.<

In other words, strip away the faux-boho (faux-bo?) trappings and “Rent” reveals itself as the kind of material that could appear on the stage of a dinner theater in Topeka without raising an eyebrow from a single audience member. Granted, that isn’t a flaw in and of itself–one generally does not go to a musical for a penetrating look at the human condition–but the problem here is that the show is clearly working under the delusion that it is far more profound and important than it really is. There is not a single moment of subtlety to be had in its 135 minutes–its idea of gradually revealing a character’s history is to have them invite someone to a support group by saying “It’s a meeting for people with AIDS . . . people like me!” Eventually, things get so unfocused that events that are clearly intended to be central to the proceedings–the fate of Angel and the relationship between Roger and Mimi–wind having virtually no impact at all. As for the various strands about characters selling out their edginess, their protestations are difficult to swallow in the context of a story that is unwilling to make statements any more profound than “AIDS is bad” or “Paying rent is bad”–statements which may be true but would seem to be sentiments hardly requiring 135 minutes of singing and dancing to convey. Then again, what else would you expect from a film that supposedly embraces sexy rebellion and the sleazy romance of pre-gentrification New York, yet only works itself up to PG-13 levels of anarchy and was shot almost entirely in San Francisco?<

Speaking of the singing and dancing, the musical numbers are almost entirely uninspired–somewhat of a major flaw in a film that is almost entirely all singing and dancing. The lyrics are basically drivel–a collection of too-clever-by-half lyrics that spend so much time trying to tell the story that they never quite get around to working as songs–and the music is little more than standard-issue mush that thinks that because it mixes an electric guitar a little louder than normal at times, it is somehow rockin’ the joint. And while I give director Chris Columbus (yes, the genius behind “Mrs. Doubtfire” and “Bicentennial Man”) credit for at least taking the risk of just having his characters sing and dance instead of coming up with some tortured conceit to “explain” it (a la “Chicago”), he has staged them in such a listless manner that you begin to wonder why he even bothered. With one exception, which we’ll get to in a moment, there isn’t a single number here that ever catches fire on its own. One number–“La Vie Boheme,”a mock elegy for the death of the bohemian lifestyle–seems to have taken everything it could from the film version of “Hair” except for the energy and vitality. Another, Maureen’s performance-art piece designed to rally the neighborhood against the developers, is so badly misconceived and executed that for a while, I began to think that it was meant to be a joke–along the lines of the “Bad Playhouse” bit that Dan Aykroyd used to do on “Saturday Night Live”–until I realized that I was supposed to take both the bit and the audience’s ecstatic reaction seriously instead of as a goof on pretentious arty types celebrating gibberish so as not to seem unhip.<

With a couple of exceptions, most of the actors in “Rent” are the same people who played the roles when the show was first produced. Since few of them are stars by any means–Martin is probably the best-known from his work on “Law and Order”–this was another admittedly brave move on Columbus’s part that nevertheless has backfired horribly. The first problem is an obvious one; these characters are all supposed to be in their early-20's and yet they are being portrayed by people who are clearly in their mid-to-late-30's. A bigger problem is that they seem far too comfortable in their roles to ever feel like real people–they all come across like performers doing their singing and dancing on auto-pilot while thinking about their dinner reservations later that evening. Additionally, they make the classic stage performer mistake of acting as though they are still on the stage; even in the quieter moments, they still seem to be pitching their performances broadly enough to reach the kids in the cheap seats.<

In fact, the only person in the cast who comes off well here is Rosario Dawson, who, along with Thorn, never appeared in the stage version. Not only does she look young enough to be plausible as Mimi (although perhaps not young enough to pass for sixteen, despite what one of the song lyrics might say otherwise), she also brings the desperate energy and edginess that her fellow actors otherwise lack. In fact, the only musical number in the film that actually works his her sizzling solo turn on “Out Tonight,” the one number that really feels as if it comes directly from the heart of the character singing it. She is so impressive here, in fact, that during the times when she is off the screen, I found myself imagining any number of other musicals that I would rather see her appearing in than this one–cast her as Roxie in “Chicago” and the movie might have actually deserved some of its success.

Despite her efforts (not to mention a couple of costumes that will inspire lustful thoughts in most audience members, regardless of gender), even Dawson’s considerable presence can’t begin to save “Rent” from being anything more than the kind of lumbering and outdated monstrosity that helped kill off the musical as a viable film genre in the first place. Of course, there are thousands of Rentheads out there who will blindly embrace the film solely because of their fond memories of the original show. For others–the kind of people who doggedly insist that a film live or die on its own merits–sitting through “Rent” will prove to be a nearly unendurable chore

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=13515&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/23/05 16:27:31
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User Comments

4/03/14 Toni Let's play How Many Times Can Rent Make You Cringe. I've lost count 1 stars
9/19/13 Annie G I feel like I saw a different film than the reviewer - not too bad. 3 stars
11/19/12 Meredith B Beautiful version of the Broadway play! 5 stars
11/23/09 Jeff Wilder Good overall. But duplicates play rather than translates it into a cinematic form. 3 stars
11/19/08 Rachel wtf is with you haters? this movie is amazing, I cried at the funeral! 5 stars
4/28/08 Not too bad 1/2 of people who loved the movie here launched ad-hominem attacks on those who didn't. 3 stars
10/24/07 Ivana Mann This musical bites.Pure & simple.It's like an opera written by Beyonce.Utter poo! 1 stars
6/15/07 Danielle Ophelia Is it relevant? Yes. Is it worth your time? Probably not. 2 stars
4/18/07 David Pollastrini it was better on stage 3 stars
4/13/07 Anikka If you aren't mature and open enough to understand this movie don't watch it. It's amazing. 5 stars
4/02/07 marg Worst. Film. Wver. 1 stars
2/26/07 Loryn This is so off base it don't even merit a comment... 5 stars
2/21/07 johnnyfog Really clumsy in the beginning, but the material shines through enough to be alright 4 stars
2/13/07 Jenny RENT is amazing. You must be insane or so closed minded to have it not inspire you. 5 stars
12/26/06 johnnyfog I may be biased but Rosario's a goddess. Well she IS! 5 stars
11/28/06 venessa i think it was a nice play coverin a wide range of social issues.i didnt un/stand some part 5 stars
11/04/06 Reena Saw the play, it kicked ass, the movie... not so much, but still good. 4 stars
11/03/06 Pam My favorite movie! I dont know how people can hate it! 5 stars
10/17/06 ali absolutely amazing!! story line is heartfelt and moving! 5 stars
10/03/06 amityjo Saw the play. Hated it. Saw the movie. Hated it more. 1 stars
8/22/06 Alicia amazing, i absolutely loved it! 5 stars
7/30/06 Parker L this reviewer is a completely soulless jerk. this movie is moving as the show 5 stars
7/24/06 Constantine Mantelo Excruciating!!! (And that comes from someone who loves musicals) 1 stars
7/04/06 Evil Wolfie A good message, but unbearably bad music and lyrics. 2 stars
5/23/06 Sophia D. It was one of the BEST movies i EVER saw. I absolutely loved it and i love to sing to it. 5 stars
5/21/06 Angelluver People who don't like RENT are either too stupid or too miserable to enjoy it. 5 stars
5/08/06 Diane Perkins Loved this movie so much. Every actors performance flawless 5 stars
4/01/06 mela the best movie-musical i've seen since chicago 5 stars
3/24/06 Epi I love rent, and this loser critic doesn't know anything... 5 stars
2/20/06 Perry Mason The songs are just laughably bad. Almost as bad as an Andrew Lloyd Webber production. 1 stars
1/30/06 Andrew the film was excellent 5 stars
1/18/06 al thought the cast was great,dont care how old they are 4 stars
1/17/06 ella as a recovering "renthead", this movie was a terrible dissapointment 2 stars
1/04/06 Piz Jumps around a lot but for a musical-turned-movie it wasn't horrible. 3 stars
12/18/05 kasey I went to see it twice, I loved it so much! Must go with an open mind to enjoy it. 5 stars
12/12/05 Bill Stunning ensemble performances; those who don't get it are missing a gene from the pool 5 stars
12/09/05 Amy A whole lot of music, movement, dance, drama and angst in this movie. I'd see it again! 5 stars
12/05/05 Eric His name is Mark not Matt. It's like you didnt even pay attention. 5 stars
12/04/05 BrianWilly Heartfelt and beautiful 5 stars
12/04/05 Erica You must be open minded to enjoy this show!! Amazing and breathtaking!!! Loved it! 5 stars
12/04/05 Kelly Absolutely stunning! Worth a second see! 5 stars
12/02/05 John Ford Other than the opening number, this movie really blows. It's hard to follow the characters 1 stars
11/30/05 joey squids stupidest movie i ever saw....i walked out after an hour 1 stars
11/30/05 John Linton Roberson Everything I hated about my early twenties combined in one film. Oh joy. 1 stars
11/29/05 Zari Lopez I think the criticisms for the musical are unwarranted. The movie, acceptable. 4 stars
11/29/05 Jim Dude, you bust the film but get the characters wrong....MARK, not MATT 4 stars
11/28/05 Governor11201 Fame! + AIDS = CRAP 1 stars
11/28/05 Grandma Mil The best: Tango Maureen.Like La Boheme? You've got to be kidding! 2 stars
11/28/05 G Far better than any Chris Columbus film has a right to be. 4 stars
11/26/05 avoidance It's true, EVERYONE in New York has AIDS. 2 stars
11/26/05 hoosierpeach Moving, delightful, STILL Relevant Still TRUE 5 stars
11/26/05 Will Goody Juvenile and Dated 1 stars
11/25/05 baseball-nut Save your money! 2 stars
11/25/05 Jon Leonoudakis A hollow, soul-less take that lacks the grit and heart of the musical. 3 stars
11/24/05 hibbyX Rosario Dawson is ugly. There, I said it. 1 stars
11/24/05 kokoro its XANADU for grad students 2 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  23-Nov-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 21-Feb-2006

UK
  07-Apr-2006

Australia
  02-Mar-2006




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