RENT to Own

by Alan Rapp on November 23, 2005

in Movie Reviews 

  • Title: RENT
  • IMDB: link

rent-posterRENT explores the issues and of friendship, death, drugs, and AIDS during one year.  Terrific casting, most of the broadway leads hired for the film, and a terrific score only underpin the import of the story.  The music unveils the plot rather than just put on a show.

The movie examines the life of seven Bohemians living in the east village of New York from 1989 through 1990.  The movie begins with the mugging of Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin) who is mugged on the night he has returned to New York just outside his friend’s apartment.  He is assisted by Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) a crossdresser who helps him up to Mark and Roger’s apartment.

Mark (Anthony Rapp) is a struggling documentary filmmaker who’s girlfriend Maureen (Idina Menzel), a popular artist with the Bohemian crowd, has left for an attorney named Joanne (Tracie Thoms).  Roger (Adam Pascal) is a musician struggling to write one last song worthy to leave behind.  Mimi (Rosario Dawson) is a dancer at the nearby strip club who lives downstairs and burns a candle for Roger.  The eighth figure is Benny (Taye Diggs) a friend who owns the building and used to live with them but has gone corporate and wants to evict everyone and rebuild the neighborhood.

The film winds through the stories of these people as they begin, struggle through, and end relationships, rely on each other for strength, and celebrate the Bohemian lifestyle.  Some also struggle with their own mortality as they face living with the AIDS virus.  Not all of them will make it through the year, but their memories, laughter, and tears will make it a year to remember.

One of the best choices was to cast the Broadway stars in all but two of the main roles.  The actors are very comfortable and at ease in this story and with the musical numbers.  As for the two additions, Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms, they blend seamlessly into the story and would be hard to pick out if you didn’t know them.  Dawson emotes and belts out number after number and earns her top billing.

I was caught up in the story and terrific music which is both soft and subtle (Light My Candle and I Should Tell You), loud, boisterous and balls to the wall funny (LaVie Boheme and Tango: Maureen), full cast numbers (Rent and Seasons of Love), and the deeply personal and moving (Your Eyes).  RENT also passes the test on musicals in that you can believe and understand this group of people breaking out into song.

My sole complaint is one sequence of the film.  The characters gather at a rally to protect Avenue A where Maureen performs a one woman show with televisions and sound effects.  It’s supposed to be some kind of avant garde experimental performance, but it comes off as an over-the-top cartoonish mess.  It also damages Maureen’s character as this is the first time she appears on screen and it takes quite a bit of time to buy back some understanding of her character and not just dismiss her as Carrot Top with the ego of Laurence Oliver.  If her character was meant to be a one-joke throw away the scene would still bother me but it’s existence could be argued for.

The film quickly returns to a higher quality and shows how good is; a lesser film would never have won me back.  Menzel’s performance is very good throughout the rest of the film so I can only lay blame on director Christopher Columbus.  I don’t know if it is a success or failure to only screw up once on a film but do it so badly.

It will be a tough race come Oscar time as many of these performances are worthy of acknowledgement, but as an ensemble I think they will all be considered supporting performances which could mean only one or two nominations.  My picks for nomination: Jesse L. Martin, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, and Adam Pascal for supporting actor and Rosario Dawson for supporting actress.

How do you measure a film?  RENT is a cinematic experience and one of the best stories told this year on film.  Aside from one short scene where I was taken out of the film due to Columbus’ over-top-direction the film is close to perfect.  And at least when it is released on DVD I’ll be able to skip that chapter that bothered me and enjoy the rest of this extraordinary movie.

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