December 6, 2005 -- “Rent” is a movie made by and for theater people. It doesn't really have much to say to people living in many red states who are not tuned in to the artistic point of view. The characters in the film are mercurial, passionate, bombastic, self-important and highly creative. They are trying to mold the universe into something more to their liking in a Nietzschean sense. In the wild, these creatures would vanish in a flash. They can only flourish in the rarified world of the arts, and that is why they want your money. If you feed them, beware. They won't leave you alone and they won't sit in your lap and purr like a cat, either. They will just complain, loudly, about how unfair the world is. Well, of course, cats do that too. Maybe that explains why Cats was such a popular play.
“Rent” is based on an award-winning musical stage play, which, in turn, is based on Puccini's classic opera, La Boheme. The story concerns a bunch of Bohemian artistic types living in run down apartments in New York's East Village. Roger (played by Adam Pascal) is an aspiring songwriter who hasn't actually written any songs. Roger has his eye on a pretty burlesque dancer Mimi Marquez (Rosario Dawson of “Sin City”), who lives downstairs. His roommate, Mark (Anthony Rapp) is an aspiring filmmaker who, you guessed it, hasn't made any films yet, but he's working on one. Mark's girlfriend, Maureen (Idina Menzel), a performance artist, left him for a lawyer named Joanne (Tracie Thoms), who actually has a job. Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin), is a professor of philosophy who is living in the low-rent district for some reason. He hooks up with a street drumming queen with a heart of gold, Angel Shunard (Wilson Jermaine Heredia).
About half the characters have AIDS (the film is set in 1989) in the opera, it was tuberculosis. About half the characters are homosexual (well duh, these are theatre people we are talking about), but it isn't exactly the same half as the AIDS sufferers. The characters fall in and out of love with each other with bewildering speed. They all dance around the idea of committment. One couple decides to get together, then, they break up, then, they decide to get married, then, they break up again, then, they get back together again. They have a hard time making up their minds about love and commitment and all that jazz. I had a hard time working up any interest in these casual relationships which lacked real passion. All of these characters are harassed by the film's heavy, landlord Bejamin Coffin III (Taye Diggs of “Chicago”). Coffin wants these guys to pay last year's rent. Imagine that, a landlord who wants his tenants to pay rent! How unfair!
I did mention this is a musical, right? Every few minutes, during the course of the film, the characters break out into song, some of which are related to the story. The only one which really stuck in my head was the one about the number of minutes in a year (525,600, if my calculations are correct), which seems to be the film's theme song. There is also a fair musical number set in a restaurant that celebrates the Bohemian lifestyle. Another good song is heard at the funeral of one of the characters. The lovely Rosario Dawson does a highly erotic dance number, but other than that the songs and dancing in the film are not particularly memorable. Some of the singers though, do have serious talent and they really pour their hearts into the songs. Jesse Martin, in particular, has a tremendous voice. A number of the singers appeared in the stage version of the story. Unfortunately, Taye Diggs, a talented actor and singer, is stuck with the role of heavy and doesn't get enough screen time.
When you are talking about recent musicals, I guess the gold standard is “Moulin Rouge.” I was not a big fan of that film, but it was sure better than “Rent.” The songs were better, the dancing was better and the characters were more believable. “Rent” is strictly for theater people. All others are advised to keep their distance. If you want to see a really great musical, however, don't rent “Rent,” rent “Cabaret” or “Singing in the Rain.” This film rates a C.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.