In the late 1980s, filmmaker Mark (Anthony Rapp) and HIV-positive musician Roger (Adam Pascal) share a loft in New York's East Village. Mark is still pining for his ex-girlfriend Maureen (Idina Menzel) a performance artist who now has a girlfriend of her own, Joanne (Tracie Thoms). Meanwhile, Roger resists his feelings for heroin-addicted dancer Mimi (Rosario Dawson). Over the course of a year, these characters and their friends deal with love, death, financial insecurity, and the struggle to realise their dreams.
Review by Jake Wilson:
"Is anyone in the mainstream? Anyone alive...with a sex drive..." So runs one of the songs in Rent, but it's only fitting, really, that this adaptation of the Broadway musical about junkies and starving artists in Manhattan should be directed by Mr Mainstream himself, Chris Columbus, whose closest prior approach to this territory would be the searing and gritty Home Alone 2: Lost In New York.
No doubt, Rent is an atrocity - imagine, say, a theatre restaurant adaptation of Last Exit to Brooklyn, or the life of Jean-Michel Basquiat as performed by the cast of Friends. But don't blame Columbus: a hack delivering an expected product, he's less emphatically vulgar than Joel Schumacher, staging most of the numbers in dimly-lit, cathedral-sized sets and making no pretence at realism or spontaneity. Nothing could redeem this material - the forgettable pop tunes with their corny prosaic lyrics, the actorly self-pity and actorly self-congratulation. We are young! We suffer! We are authentic! We care!
Though Broadway fans would have a much better time at The Producers, Rent's only half-engaging scenes are those which rely on traditional showbiz schtick - the tango dream sequence, or Mark miming the death of "la vie boheme" and pulling faces like Donald O'Connor. Beyond that, just about every scene cries out for parody - a favorite would have to be the performance art pastiche, complete with multiple TV screens, nursery-rhyme babble and an implausibly receptive crowd.
Team America: World Police probably nailed the sensibility once and for all in its "Everyone Has Aids" number, which mocks the cosiness of Rent's basic utopian dream: a non-biological "family" where straight people, gay men and lesbians all live in harmony. As an ideal, this hasn't lost all relevance, though these days it's hard to get behind a film that congratulates itself for showing two girls kissing (Columbus cuts to a group of businessmen looking sullen). In other respects, the communal affirmations and wholesome messages - pro-monogamy, anti-drugs - are hardly revolutionary: above all else these rebels believe in "love", and I'm sure George W. Bush does as well.
But knocking the film for its lack of edge is beside the point. The achievement of Rent, if you can use the word, is that it makes the very idea of "subversion" look ridiculous. Watching the film is like seeing an entire mythology go down in flames, carrying with it every cinematic fantasy of life in the gutter from Moulin Rouge to Les Amants du Pont-Neuf. No more bohemians, please. The Age of Aquarius is over. I may never wear a scarf again.
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CAST: Adam Pascal, Rosario Dawson, Anthony Rapp, Idina Menzel, Tracie Thoms, Jesse L. Martin, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Taye Diggs
DIRECTOR: Chris Columbus
SCRIPT: Stephen Chbosky (musical by Jonathan Larson)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Stephen Goldblatt
EDITOR: Richard Pearson
MUSIC: Jonathan Larson (non-original)
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Howard Cummings
RUNNING TIME: 135 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 2, 2006
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Sony Pictures VIdeo
VIDEO RELEASE: July 19, 2006