“It’s not BohÃ¨me,” sing the Forbidden Broadway parodists who make fun of Rent’s pretensions to Puccini’s original work. In that opera, bohemia means rejecting the comforts of the establishment/bourgeoisie, choosing poverty and suffering as the only means to truly be alive. In Rent, bohemia appears to want to mean this, but it comes off meaning purposeful self-destruction in the pursuit of creativity. No art gets made, no artistic pursuit seems to happen, despite refusals to sell out, pay rent, dress warmly, or avoid heroin. Yes, by the redemptive end, someone has written a song, made a movie, achieved some goals, but these bursts of creation are secondary to the self-indulgent self-destructive tendencies of this urban family. Team America: World Police made fun of another aspect of Rent, the ubiquitousness of HIV among these youth.
This musical urges us to embrace life and not think about death, a noble message, and to also drop the shackles of societal expectation in order to be free and creative. I couldn’t help wishing for a little compromise, like not sharing needles and maybe taking some kind of job so you don’t have to burn your creations just to stay warm (or pay for your AZT). Creepily, as soon as playwright composer found Broadway success with Rent, he committed suicide. Surely it is not selling out to achieve your dream, to be rewarded for your creativity?
But is that why we go see a film adaptation of a stage musical? Um, no! Our theatre had a giant pride of high school theatre girls (by the humming in the bathroom stalls, I concluded the cast of Godspell) applauding for every song and even the show logo. It makes a difference to see such works with interested parties.
Despite my frustration at the willful stupidity of some of the main characters, despite their childish determination to live life despite the requirements of life (food, shelter, avoiding deadly situations), I had to just sit back and let all that beautiful singing wash over me. The cast is the same as the original Broadway cast of 10 years ago, with the exception of Rosario Dawson as Mimi, and while they all look too well-fed and long in the tooth to be anything but lawyers, TV stars, and the like, they still are having the time of their lives getting to relive these seminal roles. When stage performers or movie actors are having the time of their lives in the performance, you feel it from the audience, and it makes the whole thing work, even when you have misgivings about the source material.
Some of the songs have been elminated or re-imagined, to my delight – some of the Broadway soundtrack has been impassable due to the talk-singing or the flatness of some of the melodies; this soundtrack was one I wanted to take home with me. Everyone looks beautiful and sounds twice as much so. It’s great to have things you know they couldn’t have in the theatre, like fire and snow and surging crowds of extras. While Maureen’s kooky live-recorded performance is the least interesting number (especially vexing since Idina Menzel’s voice is so amazing and the moment is supposed to be so important), overall you get a sense of Rent coming to a new life by being allowed to breathe on the big screen. I know I am not going to get any non-musical theatre types into the multiplex to see this one, but I also know you’re the poorer for it.
MPAA Rating PG-13
Release date 11/23/05
Time in minutes 135
Director Chris Columbus
Studio Sony Pictures Releasing