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Posted at 12:46 PM ET, 11/18/2005

'Rent' Worth Paying For?

By Jen Chaney

"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.

-- Jen

By Jen Chaney  | November 18, 2005; 12:46 PM ET
Categories:  Movies  
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Comments

so disappointing! i've seen the show several times, each time fearing that it will have lost the spark, but each time i come out energized and inspired. such a shame that the movie failed to capture that creative energy.

as for the random mountain thing, hasnt roger left new york at that point? the show doesnt really explain where he goes (or does he actually go to santa fe?). either way, it sounds like a painfully bad shot.

Posted by: colleen | November 18, 2005 2:08 PM | Report abuse

You're right, Colleen, he is in Santa Fe. But he looks ridiculous walking around amidst all of these cliffs. Not natural at all; it kinda looks like the backdrop on a karaoke video.
Of course, others may disagree with me...

Posted by: Jen | November 18, 2005 4:25 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone have any idea of a theater in the metro area that will be doing a Midnight showing of Rent on Tuesday?

Posted by: Rob | November 20, 2005 11:53 AM | Report abuse

There is a guy in real life whom the character "Mark Anthony" is based on--his name is Paul Garrin, who among other things is known for breaking the story on the infamous Tompkins Square Park Police Riot that took place in 1988 in the East Village. Paul became known as the "Man with a Video Camera", and could be seen carrying his video camera with him everywhere, often finding himself videotaping the police and the many riots that went down in the East Village during the 80's and early 90's. more about Paul Garrin: http://pg.mediafilter.org see his famous clip "Man with a Video Camera" rtsp://stream.freethe.net/manwcam.sdp or buy his videotape "By Any Means Necessary" which chronicles the housing struggles in the East Village between 1988-1991 that inspired the story behind RENT. http://shadowshop.com go there and click on "video" (or "tapes). You can view a sample clip there, and order the video online.

Posted by: dziga | November 24, 2005 12:15 AM | Report abuse

Correction: the link to the
"Man With a Video Camera" is at:
rtsp://stream.freethe.net/manwcam.mov

Posted by: dziga | November 24, 2005 12:20 AM | Report abuse

Okay, just had to point out the dude's name isn't "Mark Anthony." That made me laugh. It's Mark. The actor's name is Anthony Rapp. I understand the confusion, but...no.

Posted by: Kate | December 2, 2005 3:05 PM | Report abuse

What is really funny is that Paul Garrin has posted the same comment to every website that will let him.

He is trying to create a myth by spamming weblogs.

Sad. Don't support spammers.

The character in rent is probably based on a dozen people in the lower east side, not paul alone.

Posted by: uncle fluffy | December 5, 2005 11:20 AM | Report abuse

I really enjoyed the movie and thought it captured the musical very well for a film. You must not be a film person or you'd know how hard it is to capture a stage play on film.

And as for the mountain top, they do show a sign that says he is in Santa Fe. Pay attention.

Posted by: Nic | January 26, 2006 9:09 PM | Report abuse

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