Rent touches on everything that a musical needs. It has complicated love stories, failed stars, and dirt-poor bohemian artists struggling to make it big. And to add to all of that, they can’t pay their rent and have AIDS. This is the archetypal New York tenement neighbourhood, apparently, which initially I found to be fairly stereotypical. Despite some obvious problems in translating the 1996 Broadway musical to the screen, you really feel, and indeed believe, by the end. The story is adapted from Puccini’s 1896 operetta La Bohème, detailing the lives and loves of bohemians in Paris, an opera that also had a huge influence on Moulin Rouge.
Set over 1989-90, we’re given an insight into the world of not only the cold and hungry bohemians, but the people who populate their lives: muggers, bums, drug-dealers and all sorts of unsavoury people, as well as other starving artists. All refuse to be evicted from their homes by a company with plans to build a cyber-city on their block. There is the former roommate Benny (Taye Diggs, Chicago) who has been corrupted by capitalism, documentary-maker Mark (Anthony Rapp), failed songwriter Roger (Adam Pascal) and drug addict stripper Mimi (Rosario Dawson, Sin City).
It was somewhat refreshing and unique to see many love ballads sung between the gay & lesbian couples in Rent. The lesbian artist and lawyer were bitchy, violent and unfaithful, with some very humorous dialogue and great songs. The cross-dressing Angel and ‘her’ Tom Collins sing a simple duet of love and hope, heart-wrenchingly marred by the spectre of AIDS. But don’t get me wrong, guys, Rosario Dawson puts her Sin City training to great use in her floor show…
Some of the songs are beginning to show their age, although pulled-off rather grandly here – the ballads, and everyman rock-style of the late 80s and early 90s is slightly dated. ‘Seasons Of Love’ is a brilliantly touching Schoenburg-worthy intro and later reprised with all of the passion of ‘Do You Hear The People Sing?’, while ‘La Vie Boheme’ had me inspired to drop out of university, move to New York, drink heavily, write poetry and take drugs.
Rent far surpassed my expectations of it. It truly is a ‘feel-good’ film, ultimately, with the charm and power of the Broadway hit. Tragic and involving storylines, moving songs as well as smooth dialogue show us the events of a year in the life of Bohemia; a place of magic and constant escapism, but also of death and poverty, and daily struggle for the artists of the world.
Directed by Chris Columbus