PeaceBang Pays "Rent"
Well, I finally dipped my toe in the "Rent" cult last night by finally seeing the flick, which friends have said is a faithful representation of the stage show, and in some regards even better.
I thought it was entertaining and sweet, and the performers -- most of whom had starred in the show in New York a decade ago -- were incredibly comfortable in their roles and with each other, and very assured as singers and dancers.
It's a re-telling of "La Boheme," of course, which is why I was greatly disappointed in the New Age White Light ending. When I attend the opera, I expect the diva to die a gorgeous death, dammit, not to pop her eyes open so that she can sing a reprise of her theme song and live for more sweaty romance with her blow-dried man love. I loved the incorporation of "Musetta's Waltz" into Larson's score, although the fact that Musetta is the healthy blonde comedic foil to Mimi's tragic consumptive makes the allusion confusion and artistically a bit sloppy. Mr. Larson died of an aneurysm immediately before the New York premier of "Rent," which makes it a bit hard to argue with him, or to expect revisions of the score for the film version.
It was nice to finally get a sense of why everyone worships Idina Menzel, currently of "Wicked" fame, who truly has monster pipes and a curiously angular bone structure that grants her that "She's-Not-Exactly Pretty-But-I-Can't-Look-Away" allure. I didn't believe in her as a lesbian, nor could I believe that two sets of conservative parents (one white, one African-American) would have thrown their daughters a lavish commitment ceremony at the country club in 1989, but I like Menzel a lot anyway (she has a really nutty peformance art number called "Over the Moon" to get through, which was an interesting failure). I also liked her girlfriend, Joanne, played by Tracie Thoms (and clearly an outsider to the original cast). The gay male relationship between Collins (the swoonable Jesse L. Martin, now of "Law and Order" fame) and Angel was likewise unconvincing to me, even if lovely and tender.
Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel moved me the most - he had the most heart and subtlety, and I was brought to tears by his demise from AIDS.
Adam Pascal, in the leading role of Roger, was so pretty whitey white white boy that I found his uber-soulful crooning just irritating in the end. He has a great voice, but there's no there there. Adam, a hint: when your facial expression remains empty and dissinterested as you screech with passion vocally, it makes us less likely to believe the voice.
Likewise Anthony Rapp as his best friend Mark Cohen couldn't have been more skinny blonde suburban Minnesotan if he tried, and his vehement insistence on living "la vie boheme" just struck me as ludicrous. A striped scarf that never leaves one's neck does not one a Boho make. I could say this of most of the cast, except for Rosario Dawson as Mimi: they were just so darned clean, shiny and well-fed. Everyone's skin was luminous. They looked well-rested, sleek, successful and as though, if you could stand near enough to smell them, they'd smell of Moulton & Brown soaps. *My* struggling artist friends who had AIDs never looked like they had daily facials and lived on an entirely organic diet.
Anyway, Chris Columbus did a nice job directing, even if I thought he used the whole "now everyone will stand to show their solidarity as the music changes keys" device two too many times. The only real clunker of a number, for me, wasn't his fault: it's the signature tune, "La Vie Boheme" which is such an egregious rip-off of "Hair" from (guess!) "Hair" that all a Broadway buff can do is scrub her toe on the movie theatre floor and try to remember that imitation is supposedly the sincerest form of flattery.
If you didn't know that the preppy villain character Benny (Taye Diggs) is married to rebellious bi-girl Maureen (Idina Menzel) in real life, well, now you know.
Should you see "Rent?" Probably only if you're a theatre person, or if you loved it on the stage. I really liked what Ebert had to say about it: