December 07, 2005

Rent

Rent is like every other Chris Columbus movie I've ever seen. It is impossible to enjoy it without reservation, but the good outweighs the bad in the end. In case you've been living under a rock for the past decade, Rent is an update of Puccini's opera La Boheme. Paris's Latin Quarter become New York City's Alphabet City. The painter Marcello becomes the filmmaker Mark Cohen. The poet Rodolfo become the rocker Roger Davis. His object of affection is a stripper, not a seamstress, though still named Mimi. The flirtatious Musetta become the flirtatious Maureen. The philosopher Colline becomes the professor Collins. Tom Collins. Schaunard becomes Angel Dumott Schunard, a transvestite.
The soundtrack is amazing, brimming with with and invention. For many, myself included, the only exposure to this production had been through the Original Broadway Cast Recording. If you too are one of those people the first half of the film will be especially awkward as songs are rearranged and bits that were sung are now spoken, even though the words rhyme. It's an awkward mechanism, and makes segueing into song more difficult than if the whole thing hadn't been song. I was more enamoured of the visual creativity that went into translating a stage production into the three-dimensional universe that film is capable. Right from the get-go, I couldn't imagine seeing this production on the stage.
The movie finally connected emotionally with the first rendition of La Vie Boheme, my favourite song. It is a massive group performance with insane choreography sold by the complete and utter joy on each and every face as they bring it to life. This sequence alone was enough to hook me. So it make the tragedies that followed all the more powerful. I felt the pain in "I Should Tell You" and "Take Me Or Leave Me" even as I acknowledged how over the top they were. Love done right is supposed to be over the top. We tread back into familiar territory and then "Without You" hit with unexpected power and pain. It was the first time I got choked up in a movie theatre in long time, the height of film musical craft, with visuals that reinforce and deepen what I hearing. There are some startling contrasts to earlier visual moments and one bit of manipulative flourish that absolutely positively works. To say anything more would be to deprive of the experience. If you've already seen it, you know which one I'm talking about. With a set-up like that, the reprise of "I'll Cover You" would have struck home no matter what they did to it. "Goodbye Love" is equally magnificent, with a performance by Rosario Dawson that is piercing, and tragic, and transcendent. Adam Pascal does an equally amazing job on "Finale A"/"Your Eyes"; another scene where the emotion struck right in the chest.
Once "Finale B" finished, I wasn't ready for it to be over. It ties with Revenge of the Sith for the most dramatic turn-around of 2005. Viva La Vie Boheme! ()

  - ADAM LENHARDT

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