Dir: Chris Columbus. US.2005. 130mins.
The zeitgeist 1996 Broadway musical
Conservative audiences inthe US - where the film opens on Nov 23 - however, will probably give it amiss, bearing in mind that it is almost entirely sung, and features numerous gay, lesbian, transvestite and junkie characters, not to mention thepredominant theme of AIDS.
International audiencesprobably won't respond as warmly as they did to The Phantom Of The Opera, which more than doubled its domesticgross of $51.2m outside the US this time last year, since Rent plays to a much younger audience, lacks the wide appeal ofAndrew Lloyd Webber, possesses a distinctively American sensibility and a castof unknowns.
Rent was aunique phenomenon, capturing the anxiety created by the emergence of AIDS inNew York City in the 1980s. Its creator Jonathan Larson died tragically of anaortic aneuryism the day before the play's firstpreview. It went on, of course, to achieve a place in Broadway history,bringing in a new young audience to musical theatre and winning awards for itsdaring themes, and maddeningly catchy score.
As if doffing his cap toBroadway, Columbus kicks off the movie on a bare theatre stage, with a castperformance of the love-it-or-loathe-it trademark song Seasons Of Love, before hitting thestreets with the title song.
We meet aspiring songwriterRoger (Pascal), who has shut himself off after his girlfriend's suicide and hisown HIV positive status and his roommate Mark (Rapp), a film-maker getting overthe fact that his girlfriend performance artist Maureen (Menzel)has dumped him for a female lawyer Joanne (Thoms).
We meet Tom Collins, aprofessor of philosophy, who falls in love with street drummer transvestiteAngel (Heredia) and Mimi (Dawson), an exotic dancerliving downstairs who falls for Roger.
The plot of sorts revolvesaround a battle between the group against corporate forces represented by Benny(Diggs), formerly one of their group, who has reneged on his promise to providerent-free artist space for his friends and who plans to build a new cyberstudio, whatever that may be, in the Village.
As the year goes on, newloves are consummated, others break up, one of the groupdies and their friendships are tested.
Columbus goes for realism,shooting on the streets of New York and depicting a life of little money andcold apartments. The problem with taking a dramatically heightened all-singingstage musical and setting it in a gritty milieu is that some of it can't helpbut feel absurd, especially since the show's concerns feel so dated.
Ten years after Rent firstappeared, people with AIDS fortunately have the chanceof long life spans thanks to drug combination therapies. Corporate dominationis no longer a threat but a reality, and America has pressing new concerns likewar, terrorism and political corruption.
The sight of a bunch ofpoverty-stricken idealist twentysomethings, alltrying to create art, film or music without compromise to the evil system isquaint and bemusing. The rebellious kids of Rentfeel almost as arcane as Mickey and Judy putting on a show or their performingarts predecessors The Kids From Fame.
Having said that, thedirector attacks the film version with conviction and gusto, his cameras swoopingover the rooftops, and elaborate dance sequences merged into the more intimatemoments. He also bravely opted to cast most of the original Broadway players,with the addition of Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms.
The song score, souped up a little by Rob Cavallo,a rock producer who has worked with Green Day, Goo GooDolls and Phil Collins, is alternately dated and exhilarating, withshowstoppers including No Day But Today,I Should Tell You,
Sony Pictures Releasing International
Allan S Gordon
Robert De Niro
Book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Matt Sullivan (music supervisor), Rob Cavallo (songsand music producer)
Wilson Jermaine Heredia
Jesse L Martin