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Rent - On Film

Do you remember the Rent groupies from the late '90s? I bet you remember getting those songs stuck in your head - five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes... , even if you never saw the play or bought the soundtrack.

If you don't remember Rent, and/or have eighties nostalgia, you might want to spare yourself watching the film-friendly version, because it just won't make enough sense for it to make the kind of impact it's meant to. You'd be better off renting Angels in America. You'll get the AIDS, the painful romance and survivors guilt, the desperate search for meaning in a cruel universe and so on.

On the other hand, you won't get Rosario Dawson (as Mimi) in blue vinyl pants or lesbian duets, either.

Here's the thing - Rent is melodramatic and ergo somewhat ridiculous.

The characters are based on stock tragic opera people, and even updated are painted in rather broad strokes.

Roger (Adam Pascal) is the HIV positive troubled romantic lead - his last girlfriend died of AIDS - though in the play she commits suicide when she finds out. He steals Bon Jovi's hair for his rocker-angst posing, and posing is exactly what he does in most of the film. There's ample slouching and fondling guitars, and for some bizarre reason a bit of struting in the vast beauty of Santa Fe during his duet with Mark (Anthony Rapp).

Mimi - the female romantic match to Roger, also HIV positive, and addicted to 'smack'. She is emaciated but doesn't exactly look her supposed 19, though by and large Dawson does play her charmingly, with her massive eyes and lips even more pronounced than usual. Unfortunately, her drug addiction is indicated by her constantly waving a little baggie of white powder around and slipping skeevy guys cash.

Mark is essentially the narrator; he's the not-disease-afflicted straight man, and is played by the original actor from the stage, who is the most adept at speaking lines previously sung and balancing the realism necessary in film with the slight exaggeration needed for a story told by people bursting into song in the most unlikely of places.

Maureen (Idina Menzel) and Joanne (Tracie Thoms) are the tormented lesbian couple, because, see, they're opposites - Maureen's all wild and sexual and Joanne's all straight-laced and responsible. They have the most chemistry of the film's couples, and play their songs with the conviction and fun note-perfect. Their 'Take me for what I am' duet is one of the standout scenes. And Thoms is the strongest singer, not just in terms of musical talent, but also expression, though Menzel is a close second.

I'm not going to get into the rest of it - there are some great moments in the film, and no one cheapens the film by phoning in a performance, mocking, or not committing to a character or scene. There's just a bit too much fromage for the film to be completely balanced in tone and narrative.

The 'La Boehme' song sequence is excellent, as are the scenes portraying the Life Support meetings - it's the only time where the melodrama of the songs and the severity of the situation match and underscore each other. As tormented as the leads appear in the scenes related to suffering through AIDS, it always feels too overwrought and silly. Some of the lines don't help either :
Angel - "First we have to go to a Life Support meeting. It's a group for people living with AIDS. (pause) Like me."
(pause)
Tom - "Me too." (end scene).

However, it is nice to see the actors' faces during their big musical numbers, rather than whatever you want to call what you can see from the nose-bleed seats in a theatre. And if you dig the musical, and enough time has passed for you to appreciate a new version (unlike me, who was constantly going 'that's not what they said!') you might want to check it out. If you can handle a modern (ish) musical, go and have a fun time. If, however, you cringe at the idea of a ballad, skip it and satisfy your craving for Rosario by revisiting Josie and the Pussycats.


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