‘Rent’ this one – musical could have been better

Robert Taylor

Anthony Rapp, left, stars in Rent along with Wilson Jermaine Heredia, center, and Adam Pascal.

Credit: Ben Breier



Starring Rosario Dawson, Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Tracie Thoms and Taye Diggs

Directed by Chris Columbus

Released by Columbia Pictures

Stater rating (out of four): ***

Why make a movie version of one of the most popular musicals of the past 20 years if the only thing you intend to do is pump up the choreography and add in some uneven direction? Rent is a good movie because its source material is good, but for fans of the play it may prove to be a disappointment.

Despite the marketing, which makes the movie seem like a heartwarming feel good flick, Rent is a serious portrayal of eight bohemian friends, many of whom had HIV in a time when the diagnosis was as good as a death sentence, and their journeys over the course of one year in New York City.

Let’s begin with what works in the movie – the cast. The producers actually did something smart by bringing in most of the original Broadway cast (with newcomers Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms fitting in just fine). Their emotion, their vocals and their dancing are exactly right every moment of the film. The actors and actresses know their characters, hit all the right notes (if you’ll pardon the pun) and do a fabulous job.

As for the rest, well, it’s one level or another of disappointments.

When the music is good, it’s great. Songs like “Seasons of Love,” “Out Tonight” and “La Vie Boheme” are rightfully considered classics of modern theater. When the movie gets to these songs, the actors belt out the ballads with power, the direction perks up and the choreography shines.

Yet not all the songs are treasures. Three or four forgettable songs could have been easily cut from the movie without hurting the story. I’m talking “Santa Fe,” “What You Own” and “Tango: Maureen.” The more people sing the forgetful songs, the more the movie drags.

Screenwriter Stephen Chbosky missed a great opportunity at fleshing out the characters when transitioning them from stage to screen. In the play it’s okay that all the characters are stereotypes on one level or another because that helps us immediately identify with them. On screen we are more demanding of three-dimensional characters and I was interested more in learning what makes the characters tick.

Director Chris Columbus, a director who specializes in excess and overindulgence (hello, first two Harry Potter films and Home Alone), makes many of the sequences shaky and stagy despite his intent to open up the film into the streets of New York as much as possible. This loses much of the intimacy of the theatrical version, sadly.

I’m making the movie sound much worse than it is. I love the material and, for the most part, adore the music, and the fact that the film tries to stay true to those two aspects of Rent makes it worthwhile.

But it could have been so much more. There were so many missed opportunities, and so many moments the movie was just good when it could have been great, that I’m just marginally recommending it.

Contact ALL correspondent Robert Taylor at [email protected].