Theres hardly any spoken dialogue; Rent moves forward on the strength of its songs. Each number furthers the plot and reveals another aspect of a character. Rent performs a minor miracle in that it uses the musical genre to accomplish what few other films this year have been able to do: Rent makes audiences really care about each of the central characters. How many movies released in '05 can you honestly say that about? I say five, maybe six, but thats stretching it.
The magical musical mystery tour that is Rent is vibrant, wickedly wild and immensely entertaining. It also runs audiences through the gamut of emotions. Its a story about love, loss and undying friendship told by way of flashy, frantic musical numbers mixed with heart-wrenchingly sweet ballads and even a rousing, erotic number set in a strip club.
Based on writer/composer Jonathan Larsons play, Rent is the riveting story of a group of young bohemians struggling to get through life in New Yorks East Village circa 1989. Its through would-be filmmaker Mark's (Anthony Rapp) ever-present camera that the story unspools. We quickly learn Mark's still moping over the end of his relationship with Maureen (Idina Menzel). Meanwhile performance artist Maureen has definitely moved on to other interests shes now dating a female attorney named Joanne (Tracie Thoms).
Roger (Adam Pascal), Marks roommate, is a guitar-playing hunk whose junkie girlfriend passed away from AIDS but not before infecting him with the disease. Exotic dancer Mimi (Rosario Dawson in a break-through performance) has a thing for her upstairs neighbor, Roger, but hes emotionally unavailable. Its not until she reveals that she too is HIV-positive that their relationship heats up.
Tom Collins (Jesse L Martin) is a former professor who returns to the East Village and finds the love of his life, a drag queen appropriately named Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) who rescues him after hes mugged and left bleeding in an alley outside Mark and Rogers apartment.
Former friend Benny Coffin (Taye Diggs) has now joined the establishment by marrying into money. His wifes family owns the apartment building Roger, Mark and Mimi live in along with the rest of the street. Its Bennys demand for the payment of rent that sets the story in motion.
It sounds incongruous after reading the above list of characters to say Rent is positive and uplifting, yet its true. Somehow Rent manages to be an upbeat, heartwarming story about a year in the life of this eclectic group of friends.
Director Chris Columbus (the same man who brought us Home Alone) and choreographer Keith Young benefit from the presence of all but two of the original Broadway cast. Newcomers Tracie Thoms and the amazing Rosario Dawson (who knew she could sing?) fit in nicely with the tight-knit, talented group. Because each of the actors, with the exception of Thoms and Dawson, is intimately familiar with the characters after having played them on stage, every element of their performances smack of authenticity.
Since were heavy into the for your consideration/awards season time of year, I have a minor rant that I cant keep bottled up any longer. Rent is a prime example of why Best Actor/Actress awards arent representative of the entertainment value of a film. Give me an ensemble award category any day of the week. To me, a cast award makes much more sense than singling out any individual performance. Rent wouldnt have worked if any one performer missed the mark (which they dont, this is an incredibly talented cast of actors/singers). The same holds true for two other fine examples of ensemble work from 2005: Crash and The Upside of Anger. Few actors are so good that if their supporting players cant cut it, one actor can pull off a miracle and make a mediocre film into an outstanding one. How many times have you watched a film thats ruined by bad casting of the supporting roles? Its the entire ensemble that makes or breaks a movie. But this is really an argument for another time and place.
Mention AIDS, gay marriage, drug addition, and drag queens and some people will automatically tune out. This film includes all the above and its a musical so it may turn off mainstream audiences. Rent also requires you to embrace the idea New Yorkers wander the streets and subways singing and dancing. But for those open-minded enough to give it a chance, Rent is an experience not to be missed and one of the absolute best movie musicals of the past few decades.