Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Anthony Rapp Rent Directed by Chris Columbus
Starring Anthony Rapp
Reviewed by Byron Merritt

Thumbs Down


Musicals (and Operas) aren’t my forte — although I did enjoy CHICAGO and MOULIN ROUGE — so I was hesitant to check out RENT. But after reading about its notable comparisons to La Boheme, and how consumption was replaced by HIV/AIDS, I was intrigued enough to pick up a copy and find out what director Chris Columbus (what an unfortunate name) did with it.

I guess I should’ve stuck with my original movie-musical/opera instincts.

RENT is exactly what it claims to be, a musical; and perhaps a bit too much of one. At every opportunity — whether it seems justifiable or not — the cast breaks out into song. I know, I know. It’s a musical. What did I expect?

Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the two aforementioned postmodern musicals. They told a story through both good narratives and great songs. And they didn’t force feed the audience musical number after musical number after musical number. Let me explain further...

RENT is a modern parable about bohemians living in New York’s East Village. They’re either all struggling artists, lovers, or victims of the HIV epidemic ...or, sometimes, they’re all three (depending on which character you choose to follow). They all live in a substandard building and are having trouble paying the rent (begin opening chorus here). Anthony Rapp (TWISTER, 1996) stars as Mark Cohen, a failed movie-maker who’s coming to terms with the loss of his overtly sexy — and apparently bisexual — girlfriend Maureen (Idina Menzel). He’s also been filming all of his friends lives and it is this that gives most of the movie its emotional weight. Adam Pascal (SCHOOL OF ROCK, 2003) plays Roger, Mark’s roommate. Roger is dealing with his HIV status by remaining a shut-in after having lost a girlfriend to AIDS. But then Mimi (Rosario Dawson, SIN CITY, 2005) moves in downstairs and Roger is tempted to fall in love again. But his HIV status and his broken heart keep them apart addition to the fact that Mimi is a drug addict and is HIV positive, too. Jesse L. Martin plays Tom Collins (ha-ha), an out of work MIT instructor who returns to the Village to find his friends self-destructing and, amazingly, to find love in the arms of another HIV positive man, Angel (played by an excellent Wilson Jermaine Heredia).

It is Angel — I think — that is supposed to represent the glue that holds these ragtag bohemians together, but we see so little of him (up until the hospital scenes where he’s dying) that this aspect was nearly lost on me.

There are some decent film moments. Some of the more memorable ones (for me) were during the opening when the power to the building they’re all living in is shut off and everyone burns something to stay warm, then throws the burning embers out the windows of this multi-story structure (nice imagery). I also liked the scenes involving the HIV support group that showed its members gradually disappearing, a reminder to viewers that HIV tends to be fatal to a huge percentage of those that become infected.

But the songs just couldn’t hold the movie together. Most of them had the exact same tempo (with the exception of maybe one or two) and blurred or blended together, making me not really care what they were singing about. And with a musical so packed full of songs, that’s pretty bad.

Click here for the Rent movie trailer!


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