Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Rent is the 2005 movie based on the very successful Broadway play. You might not have seen it, but if you haven't heard of it, you've been living in an American Idol-dominated cave. Okay, let's say you're still stumped. Recognize these lyrics?

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear. Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. How do you measure a year in the life? How about love? How about love? Measure in love....seasons of love.

Yep. THAT musical.

I saw Rent on the stage in Los Angeles, and my friends had to wake me up so that we could go home. I just didn't get it. I thought I'd try the movie to give it another try. Chris Columbus, he who made the first Harry Potter movie, should make sense of this.

Well, it's still boring. But at least this version makes sense, and the screen allows the camera to take us places the stage never could. What helps is the incredibly talented cast. Colmbus and his fellow producers didn't make the mistake of going for the youngest, rawest talent they could find, the type of actor you would think would fit in a musical La Boheme, but instead went for veterans of the genre, those who can act, can sing, and can prove it.

Unfortunately, the songs still stop the action whenever it gets going. They are imminently not hummable, except for Seasons of Love (which we printed for you up above). There is one song, one exchange between lesbian lovers Maureen and Joanne (actresses Idina Metzel and Tracie Thoms), "Take Me or Leave Me," which is funny, touching, sensual, downright real. And a song that actually moved the plot along.

While Jesse L. Martin's beautific voice could make us listen to a reading of the New York City phone book, he's actually singing from, well, something similar to a phonebook. But it's so neat to see him in something other than the sterile Law and Order.

So, what do we have? We have brilliant actors who double as singers and a plot that makes sense but is depressing and a little thin, a story about Bohemians in the East Village struggling with poverty, love and AIDS, and the impact such an epidemic has on us. But in the end what we're given is not enough to make us look past a genre that has seen better years and still seems dated, a genre that demands good music and good musicians to succeed.

I suspect that the appeal of Rent the stage play was a generational thing, which is why I didn't get it -- it was a younger crowd, they didn't dance all around the room like in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! and the themes reflected today, or at least how today was several years ago. But while Oklahoma! is certainly dated in how it's presented, the music is still superior, moved the story along, and told volumes about the people in the west. Even though Rent the movie lifted the appeal of the actors to fill in that generational gap, it still couldn't do anything about the music and the pace of the piece. And I would assume that the film no longer appeals to the young crowd that liked it so much because (1) the actors are older, and (2) America has moved on to other tragedies to sing about. Thumb's down.


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