Rent (2005)
(Release Date: November 23, 2005)

No day but today... four and a half stars... it's a living!1/2

A Musical Worth Paying For!

He once was born to be bad
J.C. Mašek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

A really great musical causes a physical reaction in the audience. You'll know what I'm talking about, if you've seen the right one, but it's hard to put into words. It's the feeling that you're right on the verge of both laughter and tears, as if something has control of a part of you that doesn't know quite how to react to that hold. There's a tingle that starts somewhere around the nape of the neck and radiates to the face, the chest, and if you're very lucky, out to the extremities, numbed by passion. Rent is just that kind of musical, if not the penultimate example of this experience. You'll find yourself watching it with a smile on your face a mile wide, and an ocean full of tears in your eyes... often at the exact same time.
Rosario is my new list headliner!

It's safe to say that Jonathan Larson's Broadway show has made it to the big screen pretty gosh darned intact... and pretty gosh darned mesmerizing. Amazingly it took producer Robert De Niro, director Christopher Columbus and screen writer Steve Chbosky to bring it forth, even after so many years. If I were a bad punning man, I could say that Rent was due. When did I see it? No day but today. Opening day, baby, baby!

Anthony Rapp's Mark is the hub of our play and the camera eye through whom we see the events of this film, especially as this frustrated documentarian crafts a film of his own. Mark's room mate Roger (Adam Pascal) is desperately trying to write one perfect song before he succumbs to AIDS. It's a song he's been working on since he also lived with Benny (Taye Diggs), who has gone establishment and is now their Rent-demanding landlord. Benny and his connections want to clean out the homeless Tent City in the lot next door, which is drawing noteworthy protests, which could stop if Benny offers up free Rent to Mark and Roger in exchange for quashing a political piece of performance art, courtesy of Maureen (Idina Menzel), who is also Mark's ex-Girlfriend. Maureen left Mark for Joanne (Tracie Thoms), a lawyer who can help Maureen with her show, and Mark and Roger with their squatting problem, which is shared by the downstairs neighbor, Mimi (Rosario Dawson), the wild child who falls hard and fast for Roger, who struggles with telling her he has HIV, and refuses to attend "Life Support" meetings, even after old buddy Collins, Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin) shows back up with his new and heroic lover, a vivacious drag queen named Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) whose meeting idea draws the attention of the camera eye of our good friend Mark.

Confused? See it and you won't be. In fact, it's amazing how well each overlapping piece of this puzzle fits so neatly with each and every other piece, in spite of the fact that they initially don't even appear to be cut from the same board. What follows over the next five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes is a song-filled journey through the lives of these starving artists as they measure out their time with love and passion, healing and hurting toward a rich and bitter year long saga. The result is spectacular, filled with drama, incredible Broadway-oriented Rock and Roll, some fascinating and sympathetic characters and a mix of humor and pathos that keeps that tingle radiating from each of us, especially when the high and hard notes hit the roof.

Seeing this film in a theatre filled with rowdy fans from the Orange County High School of the Arts was an experience I wouldn't forget with a massive head wound. Especially when former classmate turned Rent actor Robert Prescott Lee showed up to wild applause. While on one hand, sitting with a few hundred teenagers mooing like Rubberface Smith in Showboat could be considered a chore, and the practice of applauding after every song made me wonder who (besides Lee) could even hear the claps, I must say that the energy from this crowd was a passion matched only on screen by Mimi. It makes me wonder what the theatre looked like that was filled with fans itching for Sarah Silverman's cameo!

The beauty of Rent, however, is in the fact that it is so very enthralling that even the roudiest of teenagers was pulled into the picture, as were we all. Rent feels so personal, it almost feels like each of us is sharing an apartment with ol' Mark, and working on our next paycheck (somehow) along side he and his friends. This puts us in the circle of friends for the good times, and the very bad ones too. While it's true that I laughed like mad in a lot of parts, it's also true that I cried more during this movie than I have in a long, long time. In this respect, Rent can be very hard, especially with the heavy subject matter of AIDS (as serious today as it was in 1989), coupled with the emotional attachment that the film demands for each of its characters.

A special nod must be made to the music here. Naturally, this is the music of the Broadway play, but what Music it is. From the rock and roll rhythms to the varied voices (from screaming hard rock to soul to almost gospel and operatic crescendoes) to the exquisite and tasteful use of reprise, which carries with its musical motifs the very emotions of the scenes the notes quote, this is one film you'll want the soundtrack for in your car on the way home. Greatly to be praised!

While Rent is a must see, and I honestly feel that I need to Rant about Rent here, there are a few flaws I need to point out here. Rent is such a shiny copper penny that the tarnish stands out like a scar on a supermodel. For one thing, there are a few moments during this year that seem to either go unexplained (except for the desire to simply move the plot along) or to go far too fast. In some cases, these actually serve to get in the way of the story in a rather confusing way. Further, when Rent slows down, the shiny copper becomes rather dull... but only for a few of those five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes. Not to make the world unsafe for pick-fee nits world-wide, it is rather noticeable when the lip sync doesn't quite match the audio (especially since it really is this set of actors singing in their own voices).

Don't take this as a skewering, though, because I love Rent. When asked who my favorite character was, I responded "The Ensemble"! It's so perfectly cast that I simply loved this combination of people. Even Rosario Dawson (who looks like an absolute angel, but exudes sex appeal by the city-load) fits perfectly into a great and varied cast, each symbiotically taking the spot light only to help the whole. Mix all this with a play with a winning book of music and lyrics, and Rent is most certainly the movie to beat!

Parents, take note, this is a wonderful and beautiful musical, and it has a valuable and hard-hitting message, or series of messages, but it also contains adult situations, language and more drug use than an HBO documentary. You might want to know what you're getting into before you bring your teenager to this one, but please do bring your teenager to this one. Know what's what to discuss it, but trust me, this should be seen. If you don't watch this, get off your tweed couch and get your smacked ass to a touring production of Rent. You just might feel that passion I've described, become intoxicated by the music and fall in love with the characters to the point that you cry when you lose them. When both my daughter (herself an OCHSA student) and myself put this one up on our lists with A Chorus Line and Hair, you have to know that this is praise higher than an exotic dancing junkie!

Go buy Rent, or at least tickets to Rent! It's hard to walk out of this film with any hard feelings or hatred toward anything but that T-Cell Eating virus. Multiple cultures, multiple sexualities, multiple races... it's all BOHEMIAN, and it's all interlocked into Four and One Half Stars out of Five. Take it as it is, or leave it. It speaks for itself. So, until I shift gears to Broadway reviews, and possibly get invited on stage for a fast dance, I'll see your naked ass in the next rent-free reel! Once Mark introduces us that is. I should tell you that the seasons of love heal, you'll see! Light my candle and I'll cover you! If only I weren't so damned fat. All joking and lame quoting aside, this musical has truly "got it", and yes, I sat there with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes. Goodbye love!

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Rent (2005) reviewed by J.C. Mašek III who is responsible for the content of this site and for the curRent location of Mimi's STASH!
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