Directed by Christopher Columbus and based on the award-winning stage musical by Jonathan Larson, Rent captures a year in the life of a group of people struggling to survive in New York at the end of the 20th century.
I’m an avid musical theatre fan; it’s one of my favourite genres to perform. But my knowledge and experience of a vast catalogue of shows is admittedly limited. Rent was one that had been mentioned quite a lot so I sought out the film version from 2005. What I got was a pleasantly characterised, musically engaging story about real-world issues such as AIDS, homelessness and drug addiction. I wouldn’t deem it anything that spectacular, but where Rent succeeds is in its cast and its music.
The cast includes Rosario Dawson, Anthony Rapp, Adam Pascal, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Tracie Thoms and Wilson Jermaine Hermedia. All give personality, depth and charm to their roles, and their dynamic as a tight-knit family does become more and more apparent as the movie goes on.
The soundtrack is very strong, and there are some incredibly memorable songs such as ‘Seasons of Love’ and ‘Will I’. The blending of contemporary rhythms, rock instruments and surging harmonies all made for a fun mix that managed effectively to be dramatic and comedic when it needed to be.
While I did enjoy Rent, there is a gleaming superficiality to the storytelling that I can’t ignore. I haven’t seen any stage version thus far and the reason I bring that up is because the things that happen in the plot would make for a more effective live musical. Columbus’s direction sometimes seems too aesthetically poppy and surface level, so much so that the verisimilitude of its themes and its characters’ struggles don’t have the emotional impact that they should have.
Whenever the movie delves into more negative moments, they feel rushed and weightless. The movie doesn’t allow the grime, grit and core of the story to fully materialise. When it does so towards its third act, it’s not very effective. The drama element to the movie isn’t done terribly, there just seems to be a lot lacking in the direction in order for it to have the impact that it should have.
Rent is a good, fun contemporary musical that’s hindered by some tonal resistance towards its very edgy subject matter. It’s definitely one I’d recommend you watch at least once.
Written by Seán Mac G.