Rent

rent-poster“There’s only us, there’s only this. Forget regret – or life is yours to miss. There’s no other road, no other way… no day but today.”

The Scoop: 2005 PG-13, and directed by Chris Columbus and starring Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, and Rosario Dawson

Tagline: No day but today.

Summary Capsule: Eight friends cope with life, love, AIDS, and New York.

Lissa’s Rating: I’d ask why no-one ever makes a musical about my life, but I think I’m happier than most people in musicals, so I guess it’s even.

Lissa’s Review: There are a few points that are important to know before you read this review:

1.) I love musicals. The more music in a movie, the happier I am. Some people don’t love musicals because the people always breaking into song bugs them. If you are one of them, bear that in mind.

2.) I have never seen Rent on Broadway.

The second point is vitally important. First, there will be no comparing of the Broadway version to the movie version here. But second, and more important, it’s possible I never will see Rent on Broadway. And from that, can I tell you how much I am loving this trend of filming musicals? I don’t care if it’s not perfectly true to the Broadway musical. A Broadway theater ticket costs how much? And a movie ticket costs how much? (And even better, a movie rental costs how much?) Guess what I’m going to see. And when I want to see it again and again, guess which one I’m really going to see.

That said, I have always wanted to see Rent, even though I didn’t have a clear idea of what it was about. I knew it had to do with AIDS, and I knew it had to do with artists and there were some characters that were homosexual, and all of this was very shocking when the musical first hit Broadway, but I didn’t know the general plot or anything.

There are eight friends. At the core are Mark and Roger. Mark is an aspiring film maker, Roger is a musician who threw away his biggest opportunity by being a junkie. Mark and Roger are roommates; Mark is in love with Maureen, who threw him over for a lawyer named Joanne. Roger is HIV positive and understandably hesitant about a relationship, until he meets Mimi, the S&M dancer downstairs. Mark and Roger used to have another roommate named Collins, who ran off to MIT to be a computer genius but was expelled and has come home. Collins is attacked at the opening of the show and found by Angel, a drag queen who takes care of him. And over it all is Benny, who used to be a part of this group but married a rich girl and now owns the block of The Village where this crowd lives. The story takes place over a year, as the group copes with life, love, and AIDS.

I’ve seen reviews that say that the material is dated, and let me tell you, that’s utter bull. It’s not because AIDS is still a problem, although it certainly is. (As is drug use, prejudice, rising rent, homelessness, and everything else the film addresses.) And sure, society is a little more accepting of homosexuality than it was ten years ago — at least on stage and screen. But what struck me was that this was a musical about living with disease and dying written by a man who was doing that very thing.

Everyone tells me they cried when Angel died. I didn’t. It was touching and it was sad, yes, but that wasn’t what hit me about this musical. Me? I cried when Roger joined the Life Support group for the first time.

AIDS isn’t as shocking as it once was, but people still die. In fact, as cancer rates seem to increase, people die from long, painful illnesses more and more often. Someday I’ll finally review Life as a House and talk about this in more detail, but that’s a subject that will never be dated in our society, and it’s a subject that resonates very deeply with me after watching my father pass away from cancer. You can argue that cancer and AIDS are two different things, and sure, they are. But there are enough similarities in that it’s a long, slow, painful death that I really don’t feel like listening to the arguments. And that, to me, is why Rent will never be dated; because people will continue to face this drawn-out sort of death with bravery, fear, apprehension, determination… and there are others who won’t have to face it, but will have to watch people they love endure it. That’s what Rent spoke to in me.

As you might guess, it was the AIDS related storylines that I enjoyed the most. Not so much the Roger/Mimi romance, because I wasn’t crazy about Mimi, but I really was touched by two other relationships: the romance between Angel and Collins, and the friendship between Mark and Roger. The guy playing Collins (Jesse L. Martin) completely stole my heart. There was something so real and genuine about him, and just the joy he was able to convey… the big love duet between Collins and Angel was just the sort of thing that made me smile because both actors were able to pull that off. (But Collins moreso than Angel.) And Mark and Roger had a brothers-without-blood relationship that always wins me over. As bad as I felt for Roger, who was living with HIV, I felt worse for Mark, who was going to have to watch half his friends die from the disease.

The romances… well, I said I liked Collins and Angel. I had moments where I really liked Roger and Mimi and moments where I didn’t, I think because Mimi sort of annoyed me. That precocious sort of girl does. The Mark-Maureen-Joanne triangle left me lukewarm, because I couldn’t stand Maureen. Seriously. She bugged the living daylights out of me. Largely because I have Issues with infidelity, but also because Maureen reminded me of too many people I knew in college that I didn’t like. Her big song — the performance art piece at the homeless protest — was easily my least favorite of the movie. I hate performance art.

However, there was something about Rent that made me uncomfortable. No, not uncomfortable. Annoyed. Irritated. And that’s the insinuation that money = evil and selling out is always bad. I wanted to slap Mark when he said living in The Village broke and freezing was better than being around his parents, because his parents sounded like normal people. And let’s face it, I’m a white woman in a happy marriage with degrees in science. In a way, I felt like the story was attacking who I am for being who I am. And that bugs me, because it’s a sort of reverse prejudice. If I don’t get to make judgements based on a person being a starving artist or having a hard life, they don’t get to make judgments on what kind of person I am based on the fact that I am in a good financial position and have degrees in science and worked for the government. Earth to the “Bohemians”: if you are doing what you love and you make money at it, you are not inherently shallow or a bad person. And there is nothing wrong with taking a job flipping burgers to tide you over until you make that movie or write that song. Seriously.

Aside from that bit of pretentiousness, and some issues with time passage and continuity (what did happen between New Year’s and October?) I really enjoyed Rent. The songs are still stuck in my head, as is much of the story. I’m so glad I finally got to see this musical — in any incarnation — and I’ll be glad to own the DVD and the soundtrack.

Nancy’s Rating: Point, Counter-point.

Nancy’s Review: I have to do this because I have to show the other side of the spectrum for Rent. I’m really sorry to directly antagonize your opinions, Lissa. I respect you and I think you’re snazzy. But if this website does anything, it adequately supplies the world with a second opinion.

My friend LOVES Rent. She’s all about it. So I’ve heard the soundtrack eighty thousand times and been told the plotline with teary-eyed fanatic exuberance. Don’t think that this over-exposure has tainted me or made me hate Rent before I even saw it. Au contraire, mon frere. The fact of the matter is, it got me incredibly psyched to watch this glorious tale of Love, Life And Struggle.

But damn. It was cheesy. I have several gripes with this motion picture, but the overlying one is that it is simply TOO. CHEESY. It evokes fake passion and a sentimentality that has been used and abused many times before. Granted the plot was developed x-amount of years ago, so I have to account for that. I was hoping that the film would do something different. I was hoping it would tear apart my soul and make me cry, cry, cry. But I can’t cry if something is formulaic and cheesy. I was hoping the filmmakers would do something different, than just showing Mark riding his bike singing “Aw gee, it sure is tough being an aspiring filmmaker” and then Roger strumming his guitar singing “Whoaoaoaoa, I’ve got HIV and I can’t tell my heroin addict stripper girl downstairs” and Angel and Collins singing “Wahoo! We’re in love without character development!”.

Maybe that’s it. I felt the characters were empty. I didn’t love Angel. I wanted to, so bad, because her boots were badass and she was sassy as all hell. But this movie just told us how cool she was, it rarely showed us. It TOLD us that she went up to Homophobic Jerk Man and said “Baby, I’m more man than you’ll ever be and more woman than you’ll ever get”… but it didn’t show us. And even though I loved how intensely Angel and Collins were in love, I didn’t get it. I believe it summarized the story through a brief song and dance number where Angel introduced herself, but she just sung so fast and there were so many colors and she was jumping around all over the place, I just ended up missing it. So now Angel and Collins are in great, magnificent, fantastic love and I don’t even know why.

I will agree with Lissa that the performance art by Mimi was easily the worst part of the movie. If anything killed it for me, I would say it’s that. The fact that everyone actually applauded and respected her dorky performance art made me go “They are taking this crap seriously, how can I take this seriously?”

The music, however, is fun. I will give the film that. But in a way, that even takes away from it. Yes that’s right, the best part of the movie takes away from the movie. All this film really has going for it is it’s music, but that’s only because before anytime real character development starts to come, a song comes in outta nowhere and interrupts the moment. Half the songs are just conversations anyway, especially that one at the graveyard or the scene where Mimi and Roger first met and he tried to take the heroin from her. This movie was two steps away from singing “I haaave to go to the stoooore” “Hmmm, okay, I’ll prooo-ooo-ooobably have leeeeft by the time you get bacccck”. “Doooo we need mi-IIIIILK??” “Hell yeaaaah we need miiiiilk!”

I liked the parts when they weren’t singing, and I liked the songs. But the songs prevented the parts where they weren’t singing from actually developing, and the parts when they weren’t singing didn’t validate the passion of the songs. So this film just does a giant Catch-22 all over your face.

There’s a good chance you’ll like it – most people seem to. But if you’re skeptical, if it looks a little cheesy to you, then all your fears will probably come true and you’ll end up disappointed.

drewbanner

Drew’s Rating: Okay, I’m not bohemian, but I did once date a bisexual… that has to count for something, right? Right?

Drew’s Review: I’ll preface this by saying that I’m coming to this review from a different place than Lissa or Nancy, because I really had no desire to see this movie. But my wife saw the Broadway show two weeks ago and wanted to see how the film version stacked up, making a rental inevitable (she’s in charge, you see)… and I’ll admit, I liked it despite myself. I’m usually not a big musical fan, but the combination of catchy pop tunes and unique, raw subject matter set Rent apart from the pack, at least in my mind. Still, one question remains unanswered in my mind:

If my wife sees herself in Joanne, the control freak who “makes lists in her sleep,” does that make me the hot chick? Because I can live with that.

Speaking of whom, though she hates when I do it with comic book movies, Lady Luck couldn’t stop herself from leaning over every so often to whisper “That’s not how they did it on Broadway” to me. I actually didn’t mind, just because it’s interesting to see what changes were made and to try to guess why. Lissa and Nancy will be glad to hear that Maureen’s performance art is presented on stage as being ludicrous, not just to us but to the other characters as well. I’m also told that in the play, Roger’s discovery of his HIV infection is bleaker (his girlfriend slashes her wrists and leaves him a note), and Joanne’s part seems smaller because there’s no scene with her and Mark negotiating his job offer like in the film. Oh, and Benny might have rejoined the group by the end, but she can’t really remember for sure. (Good thing she sprung for the expensive seats, huh?)

Regarding Lissa’s main complaint, I get her frustration, because half the characters really are dirt poor out of choice, not necessity. (Hell, my college faculty advisor was gay with HIV, he still had a sweet-ass house in the suburbs.) Mark practically has a conniption over taking a freelance filmmaking job where he maintains creative control… aw, poor baby. As a result, the line from “La Vie Boheme” (great song, BTW) about hating pretension rings as more than a little ironic, because who’s more pretentious than starving artists? But on the other hand, I think that’s an underlying theme, too — circumstances have thrown this dysfunctional little family together, and they’re determined to stick it out and make the best of things with each other, even if some of them don’t really need to. Wouldn’t hurt them to be a bit less snotty, though, especially when Benny’s at least trying to do some good. (Although, what would a “cyber studio” consist of in 1989? An Apple IIc and three Nintendos?)

It’s not surprising that a story about casting aside society’s conventions would appeal to people who choose to review cult movies on the internet in their spare time. I think we all get that occasional urge to embrace a spartan lifestyle — living hand-to-mouth in a crap apartment and not caring, because you’re doing what you love with your friends by your side. But what I like about Rent is that, though it does paint that as mostly a good thing, it doesn’t shy away from the negatives either. Living for “no day but today” makes for some fun times, but it’s also what got half the characters hooked on smack and/or infected with HIV. And ultimately, what resonated most with me wasn’t being able to identify with the circumstances of the lead characters (my days as an aspiring cinematographer junkie stripper transvestite being far behind me), but rather relating to what they were feeling and why. It’s not an easy thing to pull off one without the other, and for doing it with both style and some great music, Rent deserves its props. Viva la vie boheme!

Seriously. Does this seem like a good idea to anyone else?

Seriously. Does this seem like a good idea to anyone else?

Intermission!

  • Daphne Rubin-Vega and Fredi Walker, the original Broadway Mimi and Joanne, are the only two lead cast members not to reprise their roles for this film. By the time the film went into production, nearly ten years after its first performance, Walker, by her own admission, was too old to play Joanne. Rubin-Vega was pregnant at the time of filming, and was also nearly fifteen years older than the nineteen-year-old Mimi.
  • Jesse L. Martin’s character of Det. Green on Law & Order was shot in the line of duty to allow Martin to take several months off to film Rent.
  • The original draft of the script ended by revealing that all the action took place as a movie-within-a-movie, and as the final scene was being shot, the camera panned away from the production to reveal real homeless people and drug addicts on a real New York City street.
  • Rent is based on La Boheme, an Italian opera about starving artists Marcello (a painter) and Rodolfo (a poet). Rodolfo falls in love with Mimi, a seamstress, who is dying of an unnamed plague, and they have a doomed romance. Sound familiar?
  • Mark and Roger toss a pile of flaming papers (not a bright idea anyway) from a metal trash can with bare hands. Wouldn’t the trash can be hot?
  • Mark is supposedly Jewish, but his parents call him to say they’ll miss him on Christmas.
  • Rosario Dawson must have really endured some tough waxing sessions – ouch!
  • The protest is really, really, really, really annoying.
  • Rent is supposedly set in 1989. Thelma and Louise (which Angel mentions) was released in 1991.
  • The Evita connection (I didn’t get it until the second time through)
  • Roger in Santa Fe could not possibly look more like Bon Jovi.

Groovy Quotes

Maureen: You always said how lucky you were that we were all friends. But it was us, baby, who were the lucky ones.

Mimi: There’s only us, There’s only this, Forget regret, Or life is your to miss, No other road, No other way, No day but today.

Gordon: I’m a New Yorker. Fear’s my life.

Mark: Gotta look on the bright side with all of your might…
Joanne: I’d fall for her still, anyhow.
Joanne, Mark: When you’re dancing her dance you don’t stand a chance. Her grip on romance makes you fall.
Mark: So you think, “Might as well – ”
Joanne: Dance a tango to Hell.
Joanne, Mark: At least I’ll have tangoed at all.

Mark: You know something? I feel great now.
Joanne: I feel lousy.

Mark: I feel like I just sold my soul.
Joanne: Yeah, for $3000 a segment!

Roger Davis: But who Mark, are you? Mark has got his work, they say Mark lives for his work, and Mark’s in love with his work… Mark hides in his work.
Mark: From what?
Roger Davis: From facing your failure, facing your loneliness, facing the fact you live a lie. Yes you live a lie, tell you why! You’re always preaching not to be numb, when that’s how you thrive. You pretend to create and observe when you really detach from feeling alive.
Mark: Perhaps because I’m the one of us to survive.

Mark: How do you document real life when real life’s getting more like fiction each day?

Mark: It’s hard to do this backwards.
Joanne: You should try it in heels.

Mimi: It’s right, that today’s Halloween. It was her favorite holiday. I knew we’d hit it off the first time we met. There was, this skinhead that was harassing her. And she walked right up to him and said, “I’m more of a man than you’ll ever be – and more of a woman than you’ll ever get!”

Roger: I didn’t recognize you without the handcuffs.

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