Worth A Look: 6.12%
Pretty Bad: 25.51%
Total Crap: 18.37%
7 reviews, 56 user ratings
by Erik Childress
I’ve never heard such an instant bit of solidarity than I did after the screening of Rent and it wasn’t specific to the film itself. It’s what happens when a fan of musical theater (or film) can sense the hatred brimming from those surrounding them. The assumption is always the same – we must hate musicals. When this speculation was put to the test this very day, four of us could not have timed our “NO’s” better. It would have been 6.1 stereo if we had two more critics and a subwoofer. No, we do not hate musicals. Maybe Chris Columbus - but not musicals. Nevertheless, the smash broadway hit is now a movie and if I had seen it then I would be saying the same thing as I am now in that it is one of the dumbest of all musicals, filled with cringe-inducing lyrics and a narrative that wouldn’t pass as a concept album filmed with the Bee Gees. Think Angels In America crossed with Tommy created by someone with no training in the world of drama or songwriting.The history of Rent on Broadway is a heartwarming tragedy to its fans. Jonathan Larson, its writer, died of a brain aneurysm on the night of the final dress rehearsal in 1996 and then posthumously won a pair of Tony awards, including one for its music & lyrics. Cynically its easy to assume that if Larson had lived, it would have been the play that died a quick death. But in the bizarro world where theater snobs can be as warmed over as much as film geeks were over Il Postino, the show did go on…and on…and on.
"A Giant Open Sore Of A Musical"
Now its ten years later and in a rare nod to its origins, have maintained ¾ of the original cast. A nice gesture but doesn’t quite lend itself over to the Bohemian lifestyle when their average age is nearly 35. Maybe in their mid-twenties when life is just ahead of them (albeit a blur) but it’s a bit pathetic to watch parties in their mid-thirties struggle with not “selling out” for a paycheck. These are just ancillary concerns on top of the material itself.
On a street in New York that looks more like general population, at least during the second musical number (a poor, rancid attempt compared to the Little Shop of Horrors’ “Skid Row” opener) with flaming garbage spilled over the side, Mark (Anthony Rapp) and Roger (Adam Pascal) live rent-free in a studio apartment thanks to old friend Benny (Taye Diggs) who has sold out to corporate America. Get used to that phrase. Benny is prepared to evict them though unless they can convince outspoken home-challenged-person-thingy, Maureen (Idina Menzel) to cancel a one-night-only show designed to rile up tons of Starbucks expellees.
Mark is distraught because Maureen dumped him for uptown lawyer, Joanne (Tracie Thoms). Yes, that makes her a lesbian – a fact that the characters beat to death with more breath than a screening of the film at Alabama Jake’s Monster Truck Rub ‘N’ Tug. Roger is getting ass flirtation (literally and lyrically) from upstairs neighbor, Mimi (Rosario Dawson) who splits her time between smack and perfoming the oddest (non)strip club routines since Teri Hatcher and her drum solo titillation in Tango & Cash. Don’t these guys realize they aren’t getting their cover charge worth? There’s another old friend named Tom…..Collins (Jesse L. Martin) who gets beat up and winds up meeting streetbucket drummer, Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) who share dialogue like this:
Angel: “I’m going to my life support meeting.”
Angel: “It’s for people with AIDS.”
Angel: “Like me.”
Tom: “Me too.”
Thankfully such Beavis & Butthead-esque dialogue is kept to a minimum since barely anyone has a complete conversation of any meaning before bursting into song….where the same kind of dialogue is set to music! (“You….Me….Mimi!”). If we’re going to forego the dramas of friendship, romance and the crippling disease which plagued the homosexual community back in the eighties (the play is set in 1989) then it must be the songs we can look to in order to dispel the funkification of a collection of characters that hippies would have been embarrassed to be around.
I counted at least 21 songs in Rent – and that’s cut DOWN from the stage version. By missing or not counting reprises, the soundtrack has 28 listings. The original cast recording has 43. FORTY-THREE!!! Evita had 31 tracks and it was ALL song. The opening number, "Seasons of Love", was an earsore the minute I heard it but its grown on me if for no other reason then it being one of the three memorable songs and maybe the only one that sounds like it belongs in a songwriter’s portfolio. My ears also stopped bleeding during the recurring “There’s Only Us” anthem and Rosario Dawson’s number “Out Tonight” which is the only number capable of providing an insight into what any of the characters are all about.
Rapp’s Mark is one of those generic film school rejects making a documentary that nobody in their right mind would want to see except its subjects (on the only Bolex camera in existence that apparently records sound) which he wouldn’t sell anyway. There’s jealousy between Joanne and Maureen because there will always be women in rubber flirting with her. Maureen’s words, I swear to God. Despite singing in every other scene, the Daltrey-esque Roger is taking an entire year to write a love ballad so trite that you could hear the collective embarrassment of every hair band of the 80s. And everyone else has AIDS. Or do they?
That’s the clear joke of Trey Parker & Matt Stone’s “Lease” parody from Team America, but a blanket infection of anything but good taste is hard to identify, muting the point past anyone really coming to terms with the disease. Tom & Angel are clearly on the forefront (see above dialogue if it was ever unclear.) One guy at an AIDS meeting starts a scene singing, but we have no idea who the hell he is. Roger once dated a girl during his drug dependency days who got the positive test, but what about him? There’s a suggestion made for him to attend a Life Support meeting, which he first balks at, but then attends in what can hardly be considered an emotional payoff at the 52-minute mark. And if he is HIV+, then why is carrying on a frivolous relationship with junkie Mimi? Oh wait – SHE is HIV, too? Unless ticket buyers are given a press release to refer back to (as I was), its going to be a long trip to figuring that out. Positive or negative, these are two characters who never once acknowledge either the risk of their behavior or the consequences they are already facing. Far be it for me to start wagging a moral finger, plus there’s enough shame to go around without me adding to the mix.If you find yourself falling down the same Rent hole while watching the film and wondering how it could possibly get any worse – just wait. There’s PERFORMANCE ART! And despite Maureen hanging it from her belt, no amount of cowbell can be prescribed to break this fever dream. The most positive thing that can be said about the film adaptation of Rent is that it is not the cast’s fault. Nor is it Chris Columbus’. They are doing precisely what they were set up to do. Maybe one of them should have stepped up and stopped this catastrophe, but there is talent on display and there’s no reason to criticize someone on Karaoke night just because you think the song they’re singing sucks. Both Dawson and Thoms do fine work stepping in for the absentee cast members and fans of Rent (and c’mon already) will find little to complain about. Those of us who like good musicals have a long list and an appointment with an otolaryngologist.
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originally posted: 11/23/05 16:25:45