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12 reviews

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Movie Details

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Directed By
Chris Columbus

Written By:
Chris Columbus, Stephen Chbosky

Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Tracie Thoms, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin

Buy on DVD
Rent (2005)
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Movie Review by Jessica Film Junkie
March 5th, 2007

Why Did Chris Columbus Direct This?

'Rent' simply put is the best musical of the past 15 years. It expresses a moment in time unlike any other where people were dying of an unexplained and untreatable illness. The story is a modern update on 'La Boheme' set in NYC in 1989 and 1990 with the main characters dealing with poverty, AIDS, addiction and artistic ideals. Sure there are some cheesy lines, as in every musical, but overall it is a tragic, stirring and brilliant show. I saw it on stage years ago and memorized the soundtrack throughout highschool.

Needless to say, I was psyched about the film version. Then I heard that Chris Columbus ('Home Alone', the first two Harry Potter films, 'Mrs. Doubtfire') was directing. I got a little less psyched. Rightfully so.

Columbus smartly chose most of the original cast to return for the film, despite their being about 10 years older than their characters. Age is not overly apparent with any of the actors and it is a delight to hear those voices sing the parts I have heard them sing a million times. As for the new additions, Rosario Dawson ('Sin City', 'The 25th Hour') as Mimi attacks her part and makes it her own. Dawson certainly has something to prove after lackluster movies like 'Alexander' and she reinvents herself as the heroin-addict stripper Mimi. The second newcomer was relative unknown Tracie Thoms (TV's 'Wonderfalls') as Joanne. You would never guess that Thoms was not in the original cast, she IS Joanne, there is no other way to express it. Brilliantly played, one of the standout performances.

As for the retournees, none of them look too old for the parts, some have gone onto great stardom, all are clearly in control and know every angle of what their character is thinking and feeling. Anthony Rapp ('A Beautiful Mind', 'Dazed and Confused') is the perfect Mark Cohen. His voice is the oner-intellectual embodiment of all of Mark's filmmaker wannabe-ness coupled with severe longing for something different.

Idina Menzel (Broadway's 'Wicked') and Taye Diggs ('Chicago', 'Brown Sugar', 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back') met while performing the original show and went on to marry. Ironic, since their respective characters, Maureen and Benny, are mortal enemies in the show. Diggs' role is small, but he owns the few chances he does get, however much of the film is ruled by his wife. Menzel is a celebrity in Broadway circles, but this was a rare chance to cut her teeth on screen. The charisma she brings to live theatre is obvious as the performance art diva, Maureen. Her solo song 'Over The Moon' is bizarre and brilliant, but it is the electric duet 'Take Me Or Leave Me' with Thoms that showcasing her true genius. Menzel should try out the cinema more often, we need more oddballs with talent!

Adam Pascal (the singer in Jack Black's old band in 'The School of Rock') as Roger the has-been rocker with AIDS is the one role that perhaps could have been recast. Pascal has never really captured the needy rawness of Roger for me, and he is simply lacking in scenes with powerhouses like Dawson and Rapp.

Jesse L. Martin (TV's 'Law and Order') is buttery smooth as Tom Collins, the heart of the show. His love affair with drag queen Angel, played by Wilson Jermaine Heredia ('Flawless') pulls the group together. It is a delight to hear Martin sing again, since his short stint on 'Ally Macbeal' he has been on 'L & O' playing Det. Ed Green. But you can tell his soul belongs in a song, a delight.

Yet as good as these performances may be, it is all lost if the director does not know how to shoot a musical. The recent masters such as Rob Marshall ('Chicago'), Baz Luhrman ('Moulin Rouge') and Todd Graff ('Camp') could have done so much with this show. Indeed even Joss Whedon ('Buffy the Vampire Slayer', 'Angel' and 'Firefly' creator) could have ruled! The musical sequences are left to pretty much capture our attention on their own with little dynamic shooting or editing. The one exception, 'Tango: Maureen' which leads Rapp and Thoms into a fantasy sequence while they pine for the flightly object of their affection, stands out for being Columbus' one attempt to make this a movie musical, instead of a musical that happens to be released as a movie.

Much of the appeal of 'Rent' is that it captures the dark underbelly of our society, the afflicted, the addicted. Columbus simply does not understand how to capture the rough edge needed, so instead he does what he did with the 'Potter' films and glosses over it, hoping no one will notice. There are some moments where it seems Columbus might finally get it and the editing in of Mark's footage of NYC is good, but using the same shots over and over again is just lazy!

All in all, a stirring story that could have been directed so much better.

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