Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Rent, he said 2.0

Chris Columbus is a hack. That may sound harsh, but seriously, when "Adventures in Babysitting" is the highlight of your filmography, maybe you missed your calling. "Rent" is his movie adaptation of the much-hailed stage musical. I have never seen "Rent" on stage, but from the movie, I fail to see what all the fuss is about. It is an overly preachy celebration of hedonism that is filled with cheesy characters trapped in a story one expects to see on NBC Daytime singing awkward lyrics. The music (not the lyrics) and some (not all) good performances are really the only saving grace.

The cast of the movie is mostly made up of the original cast of the stage show with added newcomers Rosario Dawson (Mimi) and Tracie Thoms (Joanne; also of TV's late great "Wonderfalls"). Thoms, for me, was the strongest of the cast and her character was also the only one I believed. She feels like a real person with real problems (albeit one who expresses those problems in song). The others just seemed like singers not actual characters.

A nitpicky aside: Who's bright idea was it to set this in 1989? I'm not sure if that's when the stage version is set, but the movie's opening narration clearly says that it's Christmas 1989. Okay, then why does one of the lyrics refer to "Thelma & Louise" which didn't open until 1991?

Now, I apologize for this shortened review, but the end of the semester is nigh, and I am swamped with papers to write and finals to study for. Rather than go into detail on my other problems with the movie, I will leave you with this excerpt that does a good job of expressing many of my complaints:

The characters are defiantly anti-bourgeois and anti-authority. Consider simply the opening scene: They feel free to live in buildings they neither own nor have leases to and are resentful of being expected to pay rent. Getting a job is considered "selling out."” As voiced in the main musical number, "“La Vie Bohme," "To loving tension, no pension/To more than one dimension/... Hating convention, hating pretension/Not to mention, of course/Hating dear old Mom and Dad/To riding your bike/Midday past the three-piece suits/To fruits, to no absolutes."”

This worldview taints some otherwise noble sentiments and actions in this story. It's heartbreaking to see the members of the HIV support group rely on nothing more than vague feel-goodism to get through the day. Beyond that, they seem to have no hope-or even awareness that there is hope. Similarly, advice to forgive past wrongs and to seize the day, otherwise admirable counsel, is rooted in nothing more than mere sentiment.

There's no doubt that Larson (who died unexpectedly shortly before Rent premiered Off Broadway in 1996) was a skilled writer, and the music of Rent is particularly good. The lyrics, on the other hand, are often questionable, and Larson sneaks a degenerate worldview past undiscerning viewers by means of that great songwriting.

As actor Jesse L. Martin explained, "I think there'’s something in the music for Rent that allows people to open up in a way that they wouldn'’t if they were just talking. If I just told you that [my character, Tom Collins] has AIDS and that I'’m probably going to die and this is my girlfriend, who is a drag queen, it just wouldn'’t be the same. But because we’re singing about it, what I'’m saying seems a bit easier to take." Idina Menzel, who plays Maureen, added, "“Music has a weird way of sneaking up on people and making them feel something they wouldn't necessarily feel if they were being preached at."

Indeed. Whether moviegoers are aware of it or not, they'’re being preached at. And this sermon contains a romanticized glorification of a lifestyle-be it homosexuality or what should now be called neo-bohemianism-that despite the movie's upbeat conclusion ends ultimately in hopelessness.
-Written by Tom Neven, Plugged In, 2005

Also, I agree almost completely with Roger Ebert's review of this movie.

I had always wanted to see "Rent." Since I knew it would be quite a while before I ever had a chance of seeing the show, I was looking forward to the movie. The movie is not good. It falls prey to many of the hackneyed characteristics of Columbus' other works. However, I was disappointed by the story as a whole. I kind of hated it. I didn't like the characters or the songs. At least the movie helped me realize that I never really need to waste time or money on seeing the show. I'm sorry "Rent" fans (e.g. Patricia), but "Rent" is no "Once More, With Feeling."

What did you think about this movie? Are you a fan of the musical? The movie? What is your favorite musical?
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I've never seen the stage production, and don't plan on seeing the film since nothing about it peaks my interst aside from Rosario Dawson whom I've recently decided is pretty happening.

Favorite and best musical of all time has to be "Singin' In the Rain". Great songs, fun screwballish quality to the romance and genuinely entertaining dance numbers ... the only muscial I can watch and not be tempted to fast forward through the songs. But Buffy's "Once More With Feeling" is pretty great itself, though.

Re: Christ Columbus being a hack — I like his two "Harry Potter" movies, as well "Home Alone" and even "Stepmom", but admit that better directors could have made them better movies. The fact that the two non-Columbus "Potter" movies are vastly superior to his own attest to this fact.
His two "Harry Potter" movies are enjoyable, but for me, I like the costumes, sets, and John Williams' score. Columbus' slavish devotion to the books really hurt those movies, and you are right that the last two movies (though still not favorites of mine) are vastly superior.

And "Home Alone" is a favorite too, but I enjoy it now more out of nostalgia than the actual quality of the movie.

"Stepmom" I only vaguely remember, but like "Rent," it was very soap opera-ish to me. Though it had strong acting from the two female leads. And the scenes of the characters singing "Ain't No Mountain" earn it cool points in my book (see "Zathura" review).
Ditto on most of that. Columbus will never be a director that I look forward to or whose career I will follow... But if the actors are on their game and the premise is strong, the movies can be watchable. Otherwise, you get "Mrs. Doubtfire".
Breaks my heart that such a good movie was left to the despicable cheese that is Chris Columbus.

what the hell happened to Spike Lee doing the movie!? - SB
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