With the movie musical genre rising from the dead in
the last few years, it was only a matter of time before some of your favorite
Broadway shows would be grenlit, especially after "Chicago"
won Best Picture three years ago. After so many years of talk and more
talk, Jonathan Larson's Pulitzer Prize award winning show, Rent"
finally got the go ahead to the big screen and unlike the production of
"Chicago", where Hollywood stars would graced the screen singing
and dancing, the producers of "Rent" decided to go with a majority
of the original cast members. A bit of a gamble from a commercial perspective
and nearly ten years later, the original actors have made "Rent"
into an amazing, heartfelt and electrifying film.
Inspired by the Puccini opera "La Bohème," and going
back in time to 1990 when AIDS was more relevant and widely discussed,
the film starts off with Mark (Rapp), an aspiring filmmaker, breaking
into song as he talks about being poor and not having money for the rent.
Singing the song elsewhere is a roommate, Roger (Pascal), an aspiring
singer-songwriter, who's HIV positive and depressed since his girlfriend's
suicide. Practically the neighborhood where the guys live are having trouble
paying the rent to Benjamin Coffin III (Diggs), former roommate of the
guys, and current landlord since he got married to the daughter of the
real estate owner of the area. Living below the guys is Mimi (Dawson),
an exotic dancer struggling with her own dependency on drugs. After a
little resistance, she and Roger start a new romance. Meanwhile, Mark's
ex-girlfriend Maureen (Menzel) has ask him to help her with her art performance,
much to the chagrin of her Harvard educated public interest lawyer lesbian
lover Joanne (Thoms). Ex-roommate and HIV+ computer genius Tom Collins,
a professor of philosophy, strikes a romantic affair with street drummer
Angel (Heredia), after Angel befriends and nurtures him after Tom gets
beaten and mugged while visiting Mark and Roger. Against the grimy backdrop
of the Lower East Side in New York City, these friends try to make the
best of what little they have while struggling to earn money and live.
If you haven't seen the Broadway show, you will find some inconsistencies
within the storyline, but pretty much the core essence of the show is
in tact and a majority of the songs from the show are used. The transition
from stage to screen is never easy and Columbus has added outside areas
such as the streets of New York, the inside of a train, and a New Mexico
desert that hit and misses at times. The "Santa Fe" scene is
totally a miss, but you will enjoy Pascal's singing. With as many storylines
packed into the film, one could dismiss it as convoluted and pretentious,
but with six of the original cast and newcomer Tracie Thoms, Rent has
too much going not to ignore. This was Columbus' best move for the film.
Hardcore fans will come in droves to see the faces of voices they've heard
on the soundtrack. Besides Thoms, Dawson is the other new person on board,
but she's one that most filmgoers will recognize. Dawson gives a touching
performance as Mimi. The standout of the film as well as the play is Angel,
played perfectly by Wilson Jermaine Heredia. Heredia won a Tony for his
performance as the cross dresser, and still after ten years, can move
and shake the legs as if it were only yesterday. Fans of Jesse L. Martin
will find it strange to see their "Law and Order" start singing
in a film, but the boy has the chops to bust out a tune. Diggs who is
probably the most famous of the show having done several films, isn't
giving much to do but strikes a presence when need to. Having the actors
perform songs in the middle of a scene is what drives the film. From the
beginning when the cast is on stage singing "Seasons of Love"
to "Another Day" and "I'll Cover You", the songs are
vibrant and meaningful. Some may say that the topic of poverty and AIDS
is dated, but when this is an ongoing issue that many people are still
growing through and RENT is a film that through song and dance, one can
find some peace and harmony to enjoy.