'Rent' Worth Paying For?
"Harry Potter" fans may be devoted. But it's hard to imagine a more passionate group of people than the "Rent"-heads, diehard lovers of the musical that has now become a major motion picture, opening in theaters Wednesday.
Before last night's preview screening even started, many true "One Song, Glory" believers were applauding and whooping with anticipation. Some seemed so overcome with their love for "Rent" -- and trust me, I understand it, because I adore the show and have seen it multiple times -- that they embraced the film blindly, despite its many shortcomings. Personally, I was disappointed in this mundane take on Jonathan Larson's joyful and deeply emotional play. At times, I was even bored. And "Rent" should never be boring.
I could probably make a list of 525,600 things that might have made this "Rent" more exciting. But in the interest of time, here are five:
1. Another Director -- ANY Director -- Besides Chris Columbus: I'm sure Chris Columbus is a very nice man. But he's not a very good director, or at least not one suited to a meaty musical like "Rent." I mean, what part of his filmography made the suits at Columbia Pictures think he was the man for the job? His subtle work on "Home Alone" and "Mrs. Doubtfire"? His visionary screenplay for "Christmas With the Kranks"? I can think of a million filmmakers who would have made a more interesting choice: Baz Luhrmann, Sam Mendes, possibly Paul Thomas Anderson ... heck, I'd even be curious to see what Martin Scorsese or Woody Allen could do with the material. I commend Columbus for casting many of the original production's stars, but that's also indicative of his biggest fault: An unwillingness to try anything new.
2. Better Chemistry Between Adam Pascal and Rosario Dawson: The cinematic Roger and Mimi generate absolutely no heat. In a musical, the audience has to believe that the two leads can fall in love within the space of a song or two. With convincing performances (and, again, solid direction) this can be achieved, and has been in previous productions of "Rent." But here, it just doesn't work. Mimi and Roger are about as hot as the cavernous, freezing-cold apartments in which they live.
3. Improved Musical Arrangements: The songs in "Rent" are fantastic and a testament to Larson's gifts. But in a couple of spots ("Today For You, Tomorrow For Me" comes to mind), the instrumentation created for the movie sounds like it was composed on my Casio in my parents' basement circa 1986.
4. More Movement: "Rent" isn't a dancey show, like, say, "Chicago." And on stage that works. But in the movie, the numbers scream out for more choreographed movement. "La Vie Boheme" is the most successful in this regard; others, like the ridiculous engagement party performance of the usually blistering "Take Me or Leave Me," are downright clumsy. And when someone figures out why Roger sings part of "What You Own" while standing on a random mountaintop, give me a ring.
5. Did I mention Chris Columbus's direction?
I take no joy in this, fellow "Rent" fans. I so wanted this movie to light my candle. Instead I left the theater with that great soundtrack in my head and the disappointing knowledge that this adaptation had illuminated nothing.
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