Cake Or Death?

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CoD? Movie Review: RENT

Posted by Chad on November 23, 2005

Having seen the Broadway production 5 times, I really wanted this film to work. When I heard that the majority of the original cast was starring in it, I had reasonably high hopes. These are the characters that brought many of them to stardom. They worked with Jonathan Larson in the off-Broadway workshops. They know what the story is.

But I also knew that this was a stage musical. Translating that medium to film is no easy task, and even under the best direction, it can easily fall flat. In my opinion, the major obstacle that needs to be overcome is the question, “Why the hell are these people singing all the damn time?” Only two films that I know of have successfully accomplished the task: West Side Story and Chicago.

West Side had the advantage of being not only one of the great musicals of our time, but one of the pioneers into the film medium. Musicals were more accepted and even embraced in that time. Society today just isn’t quite used to the genre yet. Chicago started to break down that barrier. But Chicago also gave a plausible reason for the musical numbers – they weren’t really real. They all took place in the mind of a wanna-be singer, Roxie Hart.

RENT, unfortunately gets confused here. The songs that are the driving force behind the message of the show are inserted into the film in any and every way possible. Sometimes they appear to be a part of the actual lives of the characters (“Out Tonight”). Other times they are used as montage music, showing the characters’ lives unfold with a standard soundtrack-like feel (“What You Own”). And the rest seem to just be thrown in out of obligation (“I’ll Cover You”).

Because of this, there’s no continuity from a musical standpoint. Even having seen the show 5 times on Broadway, I really had no clue what song would end up falling into a particular category.

That said…. The acting is great (with the exception of Adam Pascal, who’s performance I found to be too cautious for someone already intimate with the role). The vocals are what you would expect from the already stellar original cast (new-comers Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms more than hold their own). And the story is just as moving on film as it was on stage.

I think that that is a testament to Jonathan Larson’s creation. Regardless of the medium – theater, film, or even CD – it is an unfailingly moving production with a pretty universal message.

All in all, those who are familiar with the show but have never seen it live will most likely love the film. Those who have seen it on stage will still be moved, but may come away a little disappointed. Regardless, the film will enable more people to experience this story of tragedy, redemption, and hope.

And that’s a good thing.

CoD? Rating: Three slices out of five.


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