Sunday, April 09, 2006

RENT - why did I cry when I found this movie so dull?

The thing about RENT is that it features a bunch of people that I can empathise with but whose lives are so divorced from my own that it takes a lot of effort. They are a bunch of singers, song-writers, artists, film-makers, strippers, junkies....who are mostly gay or at least bi-, some of whom are HIV positive. What they have in common is that they have dropped out of mainstream society and squat in a loft in downtown New York. Now, RENT means a lot to a lot of people because it captures a time and a mood - when the AIDS crisis hit hard at a point in the 1980s when it seemed like Anglo-Saxon society had collectively sold its soul to flash consumerism. It was the first musical in a while to capture what was going on in contemporary society and make it from off-Broadway to Broadway proper and into the mainstream consciousness.

The problem is that RENT then is not the same as RENT now. What seemed like viciously acute concerns then are no less concerning but have played out differently in a different context. The meatpacking district is now chic and the subject matter in RENT the movie now seems so tame it was given a PG-13 rating by the notoriously strict MPAA.

The other problem with RENT is that the music, choreography, lyrics and story-line were always rather mediocre and had none of the subtlety, seduction or sheer danger of, say, CABARET - which similarly focuses on marginalised members of a brutish society. Added to that, the movie makes the mistake of using members of the original cast who are clearly too old for the parts they play. Anthony Rapp looks plainly absurd in some of the dance moves - a fact highlighted by ham-fisted director, Chris Columbus' decision to focus on him at bizarrely painful moments. Added to the director's rap-sheet we must also point out that barring La Vie Boheme, none of the numbers had any energy. I've seen RENT live and the entrance of Angel is usually a HUGE moment. Here is was throwaway. And finally, if Rapp's character, Mark, is meant to be an aspiring Indie film-maker, why not make his footage actually look inspired rather than like America's worst home videos?

All in all, I found this to be a pretty uninspired movie. However, seeing the final reels of all the friends before drugs and AIDS takes hold, you can't help but be moved. I shed a tear when the stills of Angel are flashed across the screen at the end. A rare moment of directorial brilliance.

RENT is already on release in the US and UK and opens in France and Germany next week.

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