I wanted to like Rent.
I really did.
I’ve seen the show three times (twice with the original cast — once in New York and once in London) and I really like the music.
And yet the movie was such a disappointment for me.
I mean, aside from the fact that it would have had more emotional impact if it was simply a concert film of the cast singing the songs. Rent the movie was a letdown and it really bummed me out.
Suffice it to say, what’s good about the movie is good.
The first half hour or so is almost great. I was sitting quite comfortably thinking that the movie wasn’t going to be so bad after all.
Overall, the cast is good, but Rosario Dawson’s the best of the lot; her smile, her presence, her energy really carries a lot of the scenes she’s in.
And I thought “Rent,” “Tango Maureen” and “La Vie Boheme” were well done.
But that was about all.
The process of opening things up means, for example, that “Take Me or Leave Me” now takes place at a commitment ceremony for Maureen and Joanne, and that Mimi is singing “Out Tonight” while performing at the Cat Scratch club.
I bought into that stuff because, well, I had to.
But the bigger problems are the conversion of sung dialogue to spoken dialogue (which is awkward when you’re used to hearing the words uttered a certain way and also because, well, many of the lines rhyme) and the decision to actually end each song instead of letting them flow into the next. Such changes kill all the momentum that builds from song to song and scene to scene.
As a result, the movie drags.
“Halloween” and the second half of “Goodbye Love” provide important emotional insight, particularly for the character of Mark Cohen.
In fact, in cutting out most of Mark’s narration over the course of the show, you miss out on his ironic role within this group of friends. He’s the center, the soul of the show. And yet, all the action is happening around him, while he is detached from it all. He’s not participating, he’s observing.
This is highlighted in the monologue song “Halloween,” in which Mark sings, “Why am I the witness? And when I capture it on film, will it mean that it’s the end and I’m alone?” That’s no longer in the film, so you lose the whole angle that while other folks are dealing with loss and disease, Mark might be the most in pain because he is flying solo while so much is happening to his friends. (The song and the full “Goodbye Love” are both on the soundtrack, so I assume it was a late decision to cut them. Maybe a longer version of the film will be on the eventual DVD).
Eliminating so much of the Mark-centered stuff was perhaps the biggest crime for me.
One fault of the show already is that a lot of time passes over the course of the second act, so when you cut out these two songs, which contain so much emotion and anger, their exclusion makes what follows have little to no weight. (On the other hand, I didn’t want the movie to be any longer.) The movie goes from Angel’s funeral right into “What You Own,” and you lose the fact that Roger is abandoning Mimi when she needs him most, the fact that she’s going into rehab on Benny’s dime, and that Mark and Roger don’t part amicably when Roger leaves for Santa Fe.
It also means Mark and Roger are singing (mostly off-screen) to nobody at all, and all of a sudden Roger is in the desert singing his heart out — and you have to laugh because he just looks ridiculous.
And that is the film’s ultimate undoing; you’ve been taken out of the movie and you’re no longer with the characters, invested in their plight. The rest is just pointless from there on out.
The cast tries really hard, of course, since they’ve spent so much time with their roles and the show itself. But, for example, Jesse L. Martin’s performance of “I’ll Cover You (reprise)” loses a bit when he’s not singing it live right in front of you.
And “La Vie Boheme” is good and all, but when it’s not live, you miss a lot of the inherent energy of the song.
Let’s face it, this review isn’t going to sway you one way or the other if you were or weren’t already going to see Rent. If you were going to see it, I’ll say enjoy what you can. And if you weren’t, well, you still shouldn’t bother.
I’m giving Rent a heartbreaking C.