Main cast: Anthony Rapp (Mark Cohen), Adam Pascal (Roger Davis), Rosario Dawson (Mimi Marquez), Jesse L Martin (Tom Collins), Wilson Jermaine Heredia (Angel Dumott Schunard), Idina Menzel (Maureen Johnson), Tracie Thoms (Joanne Jefferson), and Taye Diggs (Benjamin Coffin III)
Director: Chris Columbus
I must be in hell. That can only explain why one of the most talentless idiots in the directing field, Chris Columbus, gets to graduate from Home Alone sequels to Rent. Actually, when I think about it, the pairing of a talentless fraud with an overrated musical makes sense. It’s a match made in heaven, although the offspring that results, this movie version of the musical that spawned a thousand fag-hags, is one that is begging for mercy euthanasia.
One of the biggest problems is the cast. Sure, gathering most of the original cast members of the Broadway production makes sense in the sense that the most devoted and overzealous fans of the musical – or Rentheads – out there won’t start performing Over the Moon on the streets in front of theatres as a form of protest, but when we factor in the fact that the cast are now about ten years older and really showing their age, things become ridiculous. It’s laughable when we have obvious thirty-somethings playing teenagers on TV and it is just as laughable when we have thirty-somethings here playing people that are supposedly ten years younger than they really are. What passes as la vie boheme at eighteen comes off as pathetic at thirty, that sort of thing.
The second problem is the script. It sucks, period. Good luck trying to find someone to root for because there are no one worthy of such except for perhaps Angel Dumott Schunard. In this show, we have a cast of so-called artistic misfits like Mark Cohen who plays with his camera while lamenting the loss of his hippie girlfriend Maureen to the anti establishment public defender Joanne. There’s Roger Davis, one of the most hateful lead characters ever, who spends the whole show acting like a self-absorbed asshole. There’s Tom Collins, who prefers to hack into ATM machines instead of making an honest living teaching at MIT. Didn’t you hear? Teaching people sucks. Stealing, however, is good – it’s being true to your creative vision or something like that. Oh yes, there’s Mimi, who will nearly die just to get Roger to realize that he’s been a total jerk. The story takes place over a period of time that begins when Benjamin Coffin III, now branded an outcast because he dares to marry for money – threatens to kick Mark and Roger out of the house he owns unless they pay rent or they stop Maureen in one of her protests to stop Benny from doing bad things, like making money.
It is hard to find a more unlikable lead character than Roger, who treats people really badly just because he has AIDS. He spends the whole movie except for the last fifteen minutes being so self-absorbed and causing the pathetic codependent HIV+ junkie Mimi plenty of pain just because he fears that he will get hurt. By the way, I’m surprised that Adam Pascal, after vowing that he will never do another Rent again, shows up here. I guess that even he has bills to pay. In the meantime, we have Tom who can’t hold a job and prefers to hack. Then there’s Mark who eventually turns down a steady-paying job because he thinks that his vision will be stifled or some crock like that. Joanne and Maureen are so fickle that their on/off relationship is too shallow to care for. These are a bunch of people who wail that they are true to their “vision” while at the same time they expect to get everything in life for free and be indulged by everyone just because they are “artists”. You know, some folks use caricatures like these losers to try and do away with social welfare systems. To have this show celebrating these social nuisances and parasites as heroes of the downtrodden is hilarious if it has any sense of irony about the situation. This movie isn’t about revolutionists trying to topple a regime, it’s about a bunch of sorry twats who play the guitar badly, pretend to be cows on a good day, and whine about how money is evil while complaining that they can’t afford to buy anything, therefore the world is an evil corporation to deny them what they think they deserve in this life. Don’t expect me to feel sorry for them because a few of them have AIDS and are going to die soon. This is a pilot for the new season of Real World, the East NYC with AIDS special.
Much has been said about the “value” of Rent as a mainstream musical that features HIV+ characters. But like the musical, this movie fails to portray these people as anything more than shallow and pathetic people who embody the meaning of destructive narcissism. The sad thing is, they think they are artists but man, they truly suck at that. When the script fails to tell me why I should care that these characters live or die, the whole “HIV+/gay people need love too” thing doesn’t work, especially when these characters are truly worthless and hopeless in every sense. There are some genuine PSA moments that work, such as during a support group scene when the haunting ballad Will I? is sung, but on the whole the movie comes off like a subversive Republican-financed scree to portray liberals are parasitic members of society with huge sense of self-entitlement and even bigger egos. Only Angel is the exception, but that’s because he isn’t written as a character as much as a heavy-handed Mary Sue character with no flaws. When he dies – oh hush, it’s not as if I’m spoiling the movie as this development is revealed all over the place on the Web and on the soundtrack track listing – the movie truly goes to the dogs as the sole likeable person is no longer around to rein the self-indulgent excesses of the other losers populating this movie. This movie attempts to portray a more “realistic” expansion of the musical but these scenes come off as pointless fillers. But how do you make this movie more realistic when the premise itself is far from realistic?
There are spoken dialogues in this movie, by the way, which, again, doesn’t add any value to the movie. What was good about the musical and good about this movie is the music and only the music. Out Tonight is the Flashdance (What a Feeling) redux, Light My Candle is playful and even erotic if I don’t pay attention to Roger’s whiny parts, One Song Glory is fabulous (would’ve been better if Roger follows that song by blowing his brains out, that whiny useless tosser)… everything about the music is near-perfect. The acting is fine in the movie – but many of these people are playing roles that they have perfected while Rosario Dawson makes a surprisingly decent Mimi.
If you are not one of those Rentheads who simply must watch this movie or you have already watched the musical production, Rent is a movie that you can either watch or don’t, it won’t matter. If you do, perhaps you’ll end up doing what I did: buy the original soundtrack, forget the movie or the musical, and practice Mimi’s pole-dance routine to Out Tonight while making up lyrics about the very slow and very painful ways Roger can die to the tune of La Vie Boheme.