It has been a while since I've seen a musical and before the movie was released, I've only heard good things about the Broadway production of "Rent". I've never seen the stage production so I had nothing to compare it to. Which is probably a good thing because most musicals don't transfer from the stage to the big screen that well. From the reviews that I've read this is the problem that some critics had, but I've learned a while ago not to worry too much about what critics have to say. But I digress.
There is a lot happening in this movie. The story follows a group of friends dealing with poverty, relationships, and AIDS. It is set in New York's East Village and centers around two roommates, Mark (Anthony Rapp) and Roger (Adam Pascal). Mark is in the process of creating a documentary on the life of his friends, while Roger, an ex-addict who contracted AIDS from his ex-girlfriend, is struggling with completing a song. Collins (Jesse L. Martin) is an ex-roommate who returns and is mugged two minutes upon his arrival, and is a professor at NYU and has AIDS.
After Collins is mugged, he is assisted by Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), a street performing drag queen who also has AIDS. The two soon become a couple. Living below the two roommates is Mimi (Rosario Dawson). She is a dancer and drug addict and has a thing for Roger. He is afraid to get close to her because of his disease (he has AIDS also). There is also a lesbian couple, Joanne (Tracie Thomas) and Maureen (Idina Mezel) that are having issues with their relationship with regards to trust and control. By the way, Maureen once dated Mark who is assisted by Joanne when he his offered a position at a major news organization after selling the footage of a protest headed by Maureen.
As you can see, there is a lot going on in this movie. In addition, Mark and Roger's ex-roommate, Benny (Taye Diggs) is trying to kick them out of the apartment to make room for a studio. The twists becomes endless, but you are never confused as to what is happening.
What worked so well for this movie is that music and the acting carried the day, as should be the case in any good musical. This was not a movie that preached about AIDS or any other social ills. It was a movie that simply showed the lives of friends and how they respond to one another as life deals them many obstacles and challenges. There is a scene where Collins and Angel attend a meeting with a small group of other individuals that have contracted the AIDS virus. They are talking when one guy testifies about his fear. The song that follows is one of the best in the movie and is indicative of its tone:
no other road, no other way,
Another scene with this same group of individuals showed them sitting, talking and laughing. The camera pans around the room while showing some of the individuals disappearing. But there is still laughing and talking even while they are dying one at a time. Finally, the camera gets around to one of the main characters, Angel. He succumbs to the disease. The transition from a vibrant, funny and outgoing personality to a man's body destroyed by the AIDS virus is a sad one. Again, the movie wasn't preachy, even at the Angel's funeral when there would have been a perfect opportunity to do so. It stuck to the script and simply showed the relationships and how they were dealing with the loss.
"Rent" never slows down and Taye Diggs' character is the only main character that you never get to really understand. It is a two hour movie and at times when you think it is over it keeps going. But that is not a negative as much as it is a strange way of making a movie. This is not a musical like Grease where there is a lot of dialogue between singing. There is no more than five to seven minutes between songs if that. So, if you are not truly into musicals, it may take some time to get used to the pace. The music will eventually draw anyone into the script and most people will enjoy it. Trust me when I say that it is a very good movie. For those of you that enjoy musicals, you will enjoy this one. For those of you that don't, I say try it anyway. It may just surprise you.
Directed by: Chris Columbus
Steve Chbosky: (screenplay)
Jonathan Larson: (musical book music and lyrics)
Tags: Rent Movie Review Jonathon Larson