It is a difficult task bringing a successful theater production to film. Something always seems to become lost in the shuffle of trying to recreate the kind of magic that often only exists on stage.
“Rent” is the newest example of this, making it yet another stage musical that just does not translate well into a big screen motion picture.
“Rent,” a modern version of Puccini’s opera “La Boheme,” tells the tale of a year in the life of eight friends living bohemian-style in the Lower East Side of New York City. It is the brink of the 90s and the characters are struggling with AIDS, drug addiction, eviction, and falling in love.
The storyline revolves around Mark, (Anthony Rapp) a bleached blonde aspiring filmmaker, his Bon Jovi look-alike roommate Roger (Adam Pascal), their downstairs exotic-dancer neighbor Mimi (Rosario Dawson); the wise professor Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin) and his transvestite lover, Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia).
We are also introduced to Mark’s ex-girlfriend Maureen (Idina Menzel), a performance artist, and her new lawyer girlfriend, Joanne (Tracie Thoms). And finally, every story has its villain and “Rent” has Benny, (Taye Diggs) an old friend of Mark and Roger who is now trying to evict them from their crumbling tenement.
AIDS is a big issue in “Rent,” with four out of the eight main characters (Roger, Mimi, Tom and Angel) suffering from the disease. This adds a serious component to the film and musical, weaved in between the jubilant dancing and rock-opera style singing.
All of the actors in “Rent” with the exception of two (Dawson and Thoms) were part of the original Broadway cast. This winds up working both for and against the film.
The actors do seem to really know and love the characters they play and the chemistry they all have is undeniable. However, the fact that most of them are mainly trained for theater is also rather obvious. The acting is, at times, a little over the top and ironically it is the newcomers, Dawson and Thoms, who give some of the most memorable performances during the film.
“Rent” does not deviate from its theater version in many ways, which fans of the musical will be happy to learn. But this, too, proves to be another mistake for the film. Certain scenes just simply do not come across on screen the way they do on stage and this should have been realized and then adjusted accordingly.
One particular example of this is Maureen’s big performance scene about halfway through the film. On stage, this act is one of the funniest of the entire show.
On screen it is a terrible failure. It is strange, long, and painfully unnecessary. The scene is certainly meant to be bizarre one, but it is also supposed to elicit laughter, something the film’s audience will find a hard time mustering up.
The music of “Rent” itself should not be criticized, but it should be noted that there is a lot of it. This again is a bit over the top for the big screen. Fans of the musical will once again enjoy the poignant lyrics and the similar sound to the original cast recording. Those who aren’t too fond of musicals however, may find “Rent” hard to sit through. The singing is nearly non-stop, which is another aspect of theater that does not work very well on screen.
The story of “Rent” is one that defines a generation. It is a story about love, friendship, loss, and living among an epidemic of unforgiving circumstances. It is a story that anybody can enjoy and one that everybody can learn from.
The movie version of “Rent” tells this story successfully, but fails at captivating the audience so that they believe it. This is crucial to understanding the magic of the tale. Movie-goers will miss this and might be turned off to the theater version.
And this is quite unfortunate, because it is only those who have seen the story acted out on stage that have truly experienced the magic that is “Rent.”