"Rent" starts off panning over the eight cast members standing on a dusty wooden stage facing an empty auditorium belting out the hit theme song "Seasons of Love." Good omen? Sadly, no.
The idea of "Rent" as a movie is novel. It was bound to happen, giving Hollywood a chance to cash in on the award-winning Broadway musical by the same name.
"Rent" chronicles the story of seven friends living the bohemian life in New York. Mark (Anthony Rapp) is an aspiring filmmaker, Roger (Adam Pascal) is a sensitive guitarist who can't write any songs, Tom (Jesse L. Martin) is their third roommate, Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) is the flamboyant drag queen who Tom falls for, Mimi (Rosario Dawson) is an exotic dancer who catches the eye of Roger, Maureen (Idina Menzel) is the drama queen who used to date Mark until she dumped him, and Joanne (Tracie Thoms) is the woman she dumped him for. They're struggling just to pay the rent for their apartments, while their former roommate Benny (Taye Diggs) is trying to shut the apartment complex down and jack up their rent in order to build a cyber studio.
At times, the movie gets a little too caught up in romantic elements. The filmmakers are so busy trying to pair the cast off and show the drama within each relationship, that they almost forget about the other plotline.
"Rent" has the ability to make a strong social commentary on AIDS. Despite the fact that four of the members of the group of friends have it, however, it never seems to affect them that much. They may have AIDS, but there are no visible symptoms. The actors completely neglect this part of their character. By the time one of the characters dies from the disease, it's easy to forget that he even had it after all of the vibrant energy he exudes while prancing around the streets of New York.
The format of the movie allows for much more creative sets than the play. Obviously, it's no longer constricted to what can fit on one stage. The characters transition from their beloved run-down apartment to the big business part of the city to even a mountain range in Santa Fe, N.M. (which comes off like a bad Bon Jovi music video).
The problem from which the movie suffers is that it doesn't know how to transition well from the singing to the speaking parts. The actors come off awkwardly with their dialogue right before the singing, not knowing quite how to set it up. After a musical piece finishes, the cast always ends up ruining the climax the song creates and stumble getting back to the casual dialogue. The worst part is when the actors attempt to blend both together at one go. As a result, the movie becomes stiff.
This is not to say the acting is horrible, nor is the singing. They would be able to stand alone and make a quality film, but together they are a bad fit. Obviously, you can't take the music out of a musical, but the director should have at least attempted to make a better fit of the two.
Fans of the musical who have already seen it on Broadway will obviously want to check out the movie to see how it compares. To them, it will be like the Cliffs Notes version of the play, refreshing their memories of how good it was. To those not familiar with the play, don't see the movie just to cheat your way out of a trip to New York to catch the real thing. Stick with the soundtrack if you are craving that badly to hear "Seasons of Love." At least the soundtrack will be shorter.