Film Reviews

RENT (Victoria)

By • Nov 23rd, 2005 •

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Columbia Pictures Revolution Studios presents in association with 1492 Pictures a Tribeca production
MPAA rating PG-13 / Running time — 135 minutes

QUOTE: I hated all 135 minutes of it. Heroic HIV-positive New Yorkers who do nothing, do not want to pay rent, and worship a flirty drag queen named Angel.

Creator, author and composer Jonathan Larson died the night of the final dress rehearsal of an aortic aneurysm before his 36th birthday. RENT became a sensation first off-, then on-, Broadway earning a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize. I’m shocked that a musical about AIDS, heroin, and squatters could become the eighth longest running musical in Broadway history with over 4,000 performances, grossing more than $210 million in New York alone.

I understand that the stage musical has a huge following, but the movie RENT will not. Why hail the lives of a group of people who do nothing, some of whom engage in sexually risky behavior, get terminally ill, and all of whom refuse to pay their rent? Because they feel that it is only important to love and let someone else pay the Con Ed bill? To find this “truth,” these misfits have traversed a lifestyle of anonymous, multiple sex partners and/or needle drugs. Larson ignores what made this group of sweet kids damaged souls of hopelessness.

Who are these boring, uncreative friends? Roger (Adam Pascal) is a songwriter who hasn’t written a song in a year. He just kicked heroin. His tenement roommate is Mark (Anthony Rapp), an out-of-work filmmaker who keeps filming his friends sitting around. Surprisingly, since Mark appears gay, he was unceremoniously dumped by sultry performance artist Maureen (Idina Menzel), who is now in love with a successful lawyer, jealous Joanne (Tracie Thoms). Downstairs lives Mimi (Rosario Dawson), a fully-dressed exotic dancer who does not make enough money to pay her rent either. She is a heroin addict. She likes sullen Roger. It is so sweet when they admit to each other they are both taking AZT and are HIV-positive!

WEST SIDE STORY’S Maria and Tony look like whining babies now!

Roger and Mark’s buddy Tom (Jesse L. Martin) turns up. He is homeless, jobless, and has just been mugged. But he has a really good attitude! He meets the Soul of RENT, precious Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), a drag queen. They are HIV-positive. That makes four sick people in one movie. They go to AIDS meetings. Everyone gets up and sings a ‘We Shall Overcome’ song.

Trying to promote reality into these happy-go-lucky freeloaders is Benjamin Coffin III (Taye Diggs). He married their tenement owner’s daughter and, even though he long ago promised his friends their valuable loft rent-free, he now needs the space for a business enterprise. What an ass! Where is the love in New York City real estate?

In order to save the building from urban revitalization so in demand on the Lower East Side of New York City, Maureen stages a one-woman show in protest. While Rosario Dawson is taking first place as RENT’s star, it is Idina Menzel that strikes the match of charisma. And Jesse L. Martin’s strong voice is a revelation. The choreography by Keith Young is clumsy, with Dawson doing unsexy – actually unattractive – musical numbers. For New Yorkers with a flair for drama, the costumes by Aggie Guerard Rodgers are uninteresting. Dawson is in bland colors and Angel dresses up like a clown instead of a cutting-edge drag queen street performer.

I didn’t like the music. I know it is sacrilegious to write anything negative about RENT (as the show-stopping song goes, “but I am who I am”). And, like the SERENITY and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA fans, I am sure I will hear from everyone who ever brought a ticket to RENT and cried.

Director Chris Columbus – who single-handedly nearly buried Harry Potter – filmed RENT in darkness and without a light touch. The staging of “Tango: Maureen” was the only thing I liked. Columbus brings nothing cinematic to RENT. Filming musicals is not something he should engage in again. Judging by the way he photographs and stages his cast, I would say he didn’t like any of them. Pascal might have been the only one to emerge as a screen presence but Columbus showcases him as a weakling and complainer. And, because dying of AIDS is herein considered heroic, Columbus ends the film with a celestial close-up of the wounded face of Heredia.

Director: Chris Columbus
Screenwriter: Steve Chbosky
Based on the play by: Jonathan Larson
Producers: Jane Rosenthal, Robert De Niro, Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe, Michael Barnathan Director of photography: Stephen Goldblatt Production designer: Howard Cummings
Music and lyrics: Jonathan Larson
Choreographer: Keith Young
Costumes: Aggie Guerard Rodgers
Editor: Richard Pearson

Mimi: Rosario Dawson
Benny: Taye Diggs
Angel: Wilson Jermaine Heredia
Tom: Jesse L. Martin
Maureen: Idina Menzel
Roger: Adam Pascal
Mark: Anthony Rapp
Joanne: Tracie Thoms

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2 Responses »

  1. You forget that all of these characters are living in the early nineties/late eighties, when AIDS was still a new disease and little was known about it. When the musical was first written, Larson was friends with multiple people who caught it without whoring their way through New York City, as this review implies.

    It may seem that none of these people do anything, but they’re struggling to buy food and medicine, let alone pay rent. They’re all trying to make art because that’s what they want to do, and they’ve been betrayed by one of their best friends. Obviously they appear lazy if you don’t try to look behind the stroyline a little bit.

    I MIGHT agree with your statement about the lighting, however. Some parts could have been filmed better. But I don’t understand the bit about Angel’s clothes. Obviously the Santa suit was a little much, but the costume designers were going for effect, as it was in the original Joanthan Larson production. As for the other outfits, they could have been a lot worse. In the 1999 movie Flawless, for example, every drag queen was decked out in sequins, fake fure, and metallic rainbows. Rent is more realistic than half the drag queen movies out there.

  2. Alright, as a long-time fan of RENT, I have a bias, HOWEVER:

    I find this review to be absolutely lacking in contextual consideration. In 1989, there were no artists in New York wearing top designer, flshy clothes. Mimi is dressed “blandly” because everyone else is. Angel’s character is flamboyant but damned classy overall for a time period where sexual orientations were hardly discussed, let alone adverised (on a technical note, the Santa costume has been there from the first performance of the PLAY, so let’s not badger that one, okay?)
    NYC in 1989 was the heart of the bohemian movement. For those of you who don’t remember the 80s, this was a time where the punk and bohemian artistic movements were intertwined and influenced each other. This is underscored by the main characters’ search for experimental art, inspiration in their surroundings and yes, not paying rent. Part of rebelling against conformity and capitalism is rejecting the elements that make people “slaves” to 9-5 jobs and “the Man”. This is part of what the play conveys. The title slogan “No Day but Today” says it all.
    Chris Columbus may not be perfect, but I believe it is much too opiniated on your part to go so far as to say he “buried” Harry Potter. Please keep your opinions in the editorial section. A good film review’s purpose is to include strong and weak points of the production without making social judgment or reinforcing “mainstream” cinema, if one can call it that. Films are meant to challenge us, and our perspectives; Requiem for a Dream or Trainspotting challenged us, but were accepted quite broadly as classics. If you judge a film based on its subject matter, don’t be a film critic, you’ve failed. Join the Censorship Board instead.

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