ACIDEMIC Journal of Film and Media

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a review by Rachel Robinson

I've never been a fan of Rent. There are snippets, measures, really, within the music that I think are quite lovely, but the whole bohemian-look-at-us-we're-so-down-and-out-and-AIDS-y thing never struck a particular chord with me. Maybe it's because I came to New York after the cleanup, maybe I'm a hardened soul. Maybe it's just not that good.

Yeah, I said it! I think a lot of Rent's Broadway success owes to the legendary death of its creator, Johnathan Larson, who passed away suddenly not hours before opening night. He died of an brain tumor, not AIDS, the latter of which is apparently something to sing about. This man has been summarily deified throughout the ensuing decades; he's more than a man, he's a pioneer of "real-life" musicals. Hard hitting. Gritty. To me, there's nothing less hard-hitting or gritty than a song with lyrics like, "If you're so wise, tell me, why do yoo-oou need smack?!"

However, I'm not reviewing the musical. I'm reviewing the movie. There are two scenes that didn't bore me to tears: One was the opening, which has the principals standing on an empty stage, wailing out one of the show's slightly less irritating tunes, "Seasons of Love." In my theater, people clapped enthusiastically when certain cast members' names appeared on the screen. And let's not get started on the NYU Freshmen next to me singing along. With the entire movie. Audibly. Anyway, this particular scene is stark and realized, even if the expression on most of the casts' faces is akin to the "Did I leave the oven on" look.

The movie slogs through musical numbers at an unforgivably slow pace. I actually found my eyes drifting away from the screen at times, wondering if I left the oven on. The number's "actual" opening, the title song, "Rent," is like...I don't know, a bunch of kids screaming because Mommy wants them to pick up the toys they've strewn about the living room. WE'RE NOT GONNA PAY IT! WE'RE GOING TO SET STUFF ON FIRE AND THROW IT INTO THE STREETS!THAT'LL SHOW THEM!

There's an AA- style AIDS support group meeting, which has Some Random AIDS Guy singing my favorite refrain -- "Will I lose my dignity. Will someone care?" It's the only thing that actually moves me in the show, and in the movie? Yes, you will lose your dignity. Will someone care? Well, I don't.

The quirky, hip, edgy, blah blah blah La Vie Boheme has the characters listing all of the things that are *totally* bohemian, all while dancing suggestively on tables and trying their damndest to look like they are having a really fabulous New Years. I believed that about as much as I believe that Rosario Dawson is anywhere remotely close to 19.

As far as the actors are concerned, most of them fail to register. Idina Menzel, a household name for most Broadway junkies, shines as Maureen, but can only do so much with the straightforward, music-video style staging. Her best moment and, consequentially, one of the bright spots in the movie, is the well-choreographed, re-vamped "Tango Maureen." Rosario Dawson sings well enough, and is probably the closest the movie gets to "actual" acting. (There's a lot of fake laughter, you see, and closeups of tears that just won't fall.) The two male leads, Adam Pascal and That Other Guy Who Looks Like A Weasley Brother, are boring and transparent. Pascal spends most of the movie on the couch, making out with his ratty old guitar. That Other Guy Who Looks Like A Weasley Brother swings his ancient camera around, terrorizing the hardworking ACTUAL homeless people and pining over Menzel's character, who left him for uptight lawyer, Joann. That particular pairing (Maureen and Joann) had the most chemistry, even if the kisses were forced. Roger and Mimi seem no more in love than two fabulously unkempt strangers standing next to each other on the A Train.

My biggest beef with both the show and the movie centers around Angel, the scrappy, loveable transvestite (hooker? It's never made clear) with a heard of gold. His/her relationship with Collins is established sweetly enough in "I'll Cover You", but when he kicks the bucket in the last third of the movie, I was shrugging my shoulders to the sound of people sniffling pitifully in the surrounding seats. I just didn't really care about any of these characters, and to top it off, the singing --which is so impressive live--sounds canned and electronic on the big screen. Oh, and watch for the 80's Bon Jovi video moment. I won't spoil it, but let's just say it involves hair blowing dramatically in the wind and standing on a desert mountaintop.

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