© Sony Pictures International GmbH

U.S.A. 2005

Opening 13 Apr 2006

Directed by: Chris Columbus
Writing credits: Jonathan Larson, Stephen Chbosky
Principal actors: Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Rosario Dawson, Jesse L. Martin, William Jermaine Heredia

Originally a hit Broadway musical (winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Obie Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, four Tony Awards and three Drama Desk awards), Rent is not an easy film to watch for the socially conservative. The characters are bohemians living in the East Village in NYC who are a myriad of races and also IV drug users, gays, lesbians, even a drag queen, and HIV-positive people. The message, however, is a universal one:

"Forget regret, or life is yours to miss... No day but today."

Driving home this message to live each moment to its fullest, the genius behind the musical, Jonathan Larson, the man who wrote the book, the music and the lyrics, died unexpectedly from an aortic aneurysm the night before the play's first opening. Without Larson, the stakes were raised for the making of a movie version. Afterall, when one tinkers with perfection, is it not a forgone conclusion that one will end with less than that? (Note: this reviewer saw the Broadway musical 3 times and can sing the score by heart.) That being said, director/producer Chris Columbus (known for less-than-gritty and uncontroversial family films such as Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire and Harry Potter) had big shoes to fill.

With Larson's sister Julie on board as co-producer, Columbus' first smart decision was to use the original Broadway cast, including two whose careers took off with Rent, Jesse L. Martin as Collins and Taye Diggs as Benny. Although the actors are now all about 10 years too old for their roles, their chemistry is undeniable and irreplaceable. (And Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel could still jump up on that table wearing "her" high-heeled platform shoes!) That their voices are the same as those on my oft-played original cast recording made me feel like I was visiting old friends. Kudos also goes to the two newcomers to the cast, Rosario Dawson as Mimi and Tracie Thoms as Joanne, who were seamlessly integrated into the family.

Columbus' attempt to bring an element of realism to the screen version worked well in some places, but flopped miserably in others. There was a particularly touching scene during the musical number "Another Day" where the others are pleading with self-exiled Roger (Adam Pascal) to get out of the house again. The camera heightened the intensity, allowing Roger to stand on the balcony juxtaposed against the others down below on the corner across the street. The external scenes shot on location in Manhattan effectively reminded the audience that these characters live in a real world, not just on a stylized stage set. An example of a flop is the musical number "Santa Fe" filmed on a subway car. If Columbus was aiming for realism, then maybe the subway should have stopped and the doors should have opened sometimes during the 3 minute-long song?

The purist in me was slightly annoyed by minor timing/plot inconsistencies and I missed some of the musical lyrics that were converted into raw dialogue or skipped entirely, but the spirit of the piece remained in tact and its message came through loud and clear. Rent remains a wonderful story about love, friendship and passion for life. Seeing it on the big screen was a lot of fun, and in lieu of being able to see it on stage on a regular basis, this is a DVD that I will definitely add to my collection. (Alyssa Cirelli)

Second Opinion

I have to admit I am a newcomer to Rent. I have never seen the Broadway production but I am familiar with the storyline and was excited about the release of this film. I found the beginning to be a bit slow as relationships were introduced but because the film centers not around action, but around characters, I later appreciated the tedious character development. Additionally, the flashbacks in the movie added something extra that (probably) cannot be done on a stage in a musical giving the viewer further insight in the lives of the characters, making them seem more realistic as people.

The music was sensational and I still find myself singing several of the songs days after having seen the film. Over the course of the movie I fell in love with the music and characters. Rent as a movie does make it possible for those who haven't seen the play to be introduced to its magic, allowing new viewers to see why it has such a wonderful reputation. The storyline seemed complete and I can’t imagine anything to be missing. Whether a fan of the play or a newcomer, this is a movie that should definitely be seen if not for the music then for the chemistry of the well-written characters. (Kara Wahn)

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