I’m totally not a fan of Rent.
EDIT (or, More):
After sleeping on it, I feel better about Rent than I did when I first arrived home. I think elements of its execution bothered me more than its actual content did, although I do have some bones to pick there, too.
First of all, I think Chris Columbus was a poor choice for the film’s director. Some nuggets from the Columbus oeuvre include: Adventures in Babysitting, Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, Nine Months, Stepmom, and two Harry Potter films (the “light” ones).
I want you to think about poverty, homelessness, and AIDS. Could you imagine Mrs. Doubtfire spearheading an anti-eviction rally? How about Chris from Babysitting moving from blues-bar crooning to bare-midriff pole dancing?
No, me either.
The biggest problem with Rent is that, in terms of production value and innovation, it’s about as fascinating as something you could see on VH1. The extent of Columbus’s ingenuity in translating from stage to screen extends as far as….flashbacks to other times or places while people sing. Oh, and some people vanish during a song—you can’t easily do that on a stage. But by and large, Rent feels like a two-bit taping of a stage show from 8th row center——there isn’t much about this that you can’t duplicate on a stage (or wasn’t already staged in Rent‘s original incarnation). What a waste of time and resources to take what is probably a wonderful and innovative stage show and record it onto digital video.
That said, I was also disappointed by a few things inherent in the story. I’ve never seen Rent on stage, so this was my first encounter with it. I’m assuming it was faithfully transposed from stage to screen, but naturally I’m not sure. First of all, it was disappointing to me that this story concerns poor people on the verge of homelessness who are devastated by AIDS, corporate dishonesty, and heartbreak, yet for all intents and purposes this film could be described as a two and a half hour Noxema commercial: everyone is very beautiful and NOBODY IS SUFFERING FROM ACNE. It’s true—by the end of the film Angel begins to look a little thin(ner) and shows (gasp!) KS lesions, but that’s all.
And while we’re on the subject of Angel’s death: let’s define anticlimax. Although I normally get pretty irritated with the benevolent-drag-queen shtick (see also: Too Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar et al), I could buy into the character of Angel, and so, for that reason, I wanted Angel’s death to have weight and resonance.
What I got was a fade out, then a funeral.
I get Rent, though. It’s a story about the absolute pits of existence in the 90s, but it’s about transcendence. I get that. But I don’t like it. I don’t like that Rent seems to imply that if we just pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and sing a peppy song, AIDS doesn’t matter as much, or being a junkie can be kinda cute if she pretends her candle keeps blowing out, or if your song can ressurect the (nearly?) dead. I can’t think of anything more bourgeois than being so blind as to think AIDS as a worldwide phenomenon can be transcended by love and friendship. It seems irresponsible to me.
My last problem with Rent is actually a problem with heterosexual America: after Collins and Angel sing about how much they love each other, they kiss. Someone sitting near me whined, “Ew!!”