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Chris Columbus brings the famous Broadway musical RENT to the silver screen with his contemporary vision that includes a poignantly dramatic representation of the harsh life on "A-Street" where drugs, scandal, and sexual precociousness abound. Together 7 friends do their best to make it through, with laughter, love, and song…all the while never paying RENT.
Written by: Stephen Chbosky (screenplay) and Jonathan Larson (book music and lyrics).
Directed by: Chris Columbus.
Genre: Drama, Musical.
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving drugs and sexuality, and for occasional strong language.
Tagline: "How do you measure, measure a year?... How about love?"
It's always a risky endeavor taking a Broadway musical, an overwhelmingly successful one at that, to the silver screen without risking the loss of some of its fundamental theatric components. Still, in Columbus' contemporary visionary adaptation, RENT remains true to its roots and gracefully emerges a successful cinematic musical on par and rivaling its former theatric versions.
The film is presumably set in contemporary time, opening with a montage of the eight primary characters singing the play’s famous score: "Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes…how do you a measure a year?" It then pans to the ghettoized 'A-Street' where residents Mark (Anthony Rapp) and Roger (Adam Pascal) are currently reflecting on their dire state: it’s the end of the year, rent is due, and they haven’t a penny to spare, lest they go one more night cold and hungry as they haven’t the money even to afford electric or food. As the rest of 'A-Street's' residents participate in their anarchist rebellion the block breaks out in song and dance in bohemian splendor; refusing to pay rent to property owner, Mark and Roger's former friend, Benjamin Coffin III (Taye Diggs).
With eviction notices abounding, the ghettoized contemporary "Gotham City" wanders lost through the mud and muck of their own drug and disease inflicted mire that is "home". Panning from one character to the next audiences get a brief glimpse into the artistic, albeit troubled lives of "Rent's" protagonists: Mark, an avid film documenter has recently been left by his longtime girlfriend Maureen (Idina Menzel) for another; a female ivy-league lawyer named Joanne (Trace Thoms); Roger is currently wrestling with the tragedy of his former love's AIDS infection and its earth shattering effects on his professional career and personal life; Mark and Roger's close friend Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin) has recently returned to 'A-Street' after losing his teaching job at NYU; Tom will be accompanied by his sympathetic guardian protector, Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia); who coincidentally also has AIDS, who will quickly win over his overtly masculine heart and start a loving relationship; meanwhile the young and precocious Mimi (Rosario Dawson) spends her days feeding her fix while by night she supports her habit at the local strip joint, “The Cat-Scratch Club”.
Between frequent visits to a local AIDS support group, helping Maureen launch her controversial “A-Street Protest”; an appropriately Bohemian rebuttal to Coffin’s tyrannically bureaucratic rent policies, and other such milieus, Roger begins to piece together a collective montage of the "hard life" as lived on New York's "A-Street". Meanwhile romances, save for Mark, abound. Roger and Mimi soon find themselves struggling to deny their feelings; the poignant song "Light the Candle" and "No Day but Today" highlighting their romantic interludes. So too is the rocky relationship between the notoriously infidel Maureen and her antithetical ivy-league partner spurring problems as Maureen’s flirtatious eyes cease to wander even during their romantic 'Life Partner Nuptials'. Meanwhile Tom and Angel are happy in love, content with the peace that their stable relationship brings; that is, until Angel begins to fall deathly ill from his/her disease.
Once an unbreakably strong bond between New York, 'Bohemian bandits', it seems it will take Angel's painfully inevitable death to bring the now severed group back together. But painful memories quickly intervene, once more stirring up haunting notions of the rocky past. While Maureen and Joanne do their best to avoid eye contact, Mimi and Mark fight ceaselessly; Benjamin Coffin taking his former fling, Mimi's side, in the process. In need to escape the suffocating life of the ghetto, Roger sells his guitar, metaphorically his identity; and heads West on those infamous winding roads of "self discovery". Meanwhile Mimi loses herself in the fight against her heroin addiction, and soon becomes another missing person tragedy on 'A-Street'. Once again, tragedy is a force stronger than personal grudges and Mimi’s dire situation forces all to come together once again.
With Roger playing back his disarming footage all stand and watch retrospectively their ‘A-Street’-bound lives and come to understand the inextricable ties that bind them to one-another. Their Bohemian roots, their friendship, their love, are all that they have: "There's only us. There's only this. Forget; regret. Or life is yours to miss."
RENT is a powerful drama-musical that evokes as much sympathy and support from its powerful artistic performances as it does its unabashedly brazen set designs and content. From a proliferation of poverty, drugs, and disease, to the harsh and barren interiors of the 'A-Street' ghetto walls, audiences watch in sympathetic angst as the group of friends struggle to make their way in life; but most importantly, make a difference. Completely controversial, completely anti-conservative, still, the “Bohemians” are at once entirely repulsive and utterly compelling. They're unabashed, unapologetic, unwavering, and unafraid. Through multiple self-sacrifices the group struggles to be heard, individually and collectively, as a group speaking out for the rights of the human heart.
The film is as hopeful as seemingly apocalyptic and in the controversy there is salvation to be found in the guise of unconditional love. Though one may not agree with each of their personal life choices, be it sexually or recreationally, still, the power of RENT is that it strips these axiomatically flawed characters of their "smudges", revealing a purged group of born-again disciples marching to beat of the salvation drum: love.
Chris Columbus joins this group of unlikely actors, Rosario Dawson, and creates, in short, a musical masterpiece. Though the story threatens to undermine its powerful message with its abounding clichéd content, still, the film remains poignantly deferent and respectful to the very problematic issues it dramatizes. What’s more, the music is gripping, edgy, contemporary, and most importantly, well-performed and memorable. The classic "Seasons of Love" is as powerful as ever, with the rest of the soundtrack following close behind. With catchy "pop-rock" tunes, Broadway is given a bit of an "edge" which appropriately mirrors its gritty content, sets, and characters. Everything about this film is rough around the edges; the music brilliantly underscores such.
Unfortunately this film is a little too "buzz-happy" in an uber controversial way that it will be passed up for the Oscars, still; if rap songs can win Oscars, there's absolutely no reason, and most importantly, no excuse, why “RENT” should be overlooked; all the same, that doesn’t mean it won’t be. Granted, the film may seem more appropriate for ceremonies like the Tony’s; with one amazingly important distinction; it’s a film adaptation, and deserves recognition for being such a great one at that!
The cast was superb, with actors like the quasi-geeky Anthony Rapp, the burly baritone Jesse L. Martin, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, and surprisingly, Rosario Dawson giving A-rate performances that amaze and please the critical eye and ear. This film truly is an artistic vision and with the help of a solid cast, Columbus successfully carries out his vision. He should be proud.
"Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles in laughter in strife. In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes - how do you measure a year of your life? How about love? How about love? How about love? Measure in love... seasons of love."
"There's only us. There's only this. Forget; regret. Or life is yours to miss. No other road. No other way. No day but today."
Anthony Rapp plays Mark Cohen, the narrator/documenter of the life of the "A street" gang.
Adam Pascal plays Roger Davis, the wayward singer/songwriter.
Rosario Dawson plays Mimi Marquez, the conflicted nineteen-year-old ‘user’.
Wilson Jermaine Heredia plays Angel Dumott Schunard, the optimistic drag queen.
Idina Menzel plays Maureen Johnson, the notorious ‘wild woman’.
Trace Thoms plays Joanne Jefferson, Maureen's 'ivy league’ girlfriend.
Jesse L. Martin plays Tom Collins, Angel's 'king'.
Taye Diggs plays Benjamin Coffin III, the notorious 'rent' control manager.