WEB EXTRA: "Rent" as a movie doesn't quite compare to musical, but still worth a look
Of course, there are differences between a Broadway production and a film. I was concerned about the transition. The experience of live theater is very hard to reproduce; it's hard to feel the passion and see the sweat on a Hollywood movie set, where perfection is preferred over raw performance.
The final product is interesting. I've broken down what I see as some good points and bad of the film version of "Rent."
A change isn't always good
Soundtrack: 4 stars
Transition from stage to screen: 3 stars
Acting: 4 stars
Direction: 4 stars
Overall: 4 stars
As I feared, the ambiance of the live theater performance is nearly lost in the film. It looked like a Hollywood production for the most part, which is disappointing. I hoped the film would capture more of the stage energy, especially because that's where the story has its roots. The film took away from the necessity for imagination, for example with panning shots of New York City. The actors also didn't have to be as creative, because of solid sets depicting rooms instead of more open Broadway sets.
Some of the music lost a certain edge on film. Certain transitions sung between major songs in the Broadway play are spoken in the film, which makes them stand out awkwardly. Some of the songs just aren't as strong in the film. The film version of exotic dancer Mimi's (Rosario Dawson) solo song, "Out Tonight" isn't a complete flop, but it just did not capture the raw, sexy power of the song as it is in the play. That is one of the most memorable moments from the Broadway show but it is a forgettable scene in the movie. Dawson is obviously a newcomer in the small cast made up of most of the original show's actors. She isn't as comfortable or passionate in her performance as other actors.
The themes of drug addiction and homelessness have a much lesser role in the film, which is disappointing because these socially conscious themes are the story's strong points.
Okay, maybe that's cool
The film opens powerfully with all of the principal actors singing on a stage, each under a spotlight. The film ends as filmmaker Mark's (Anthony Rapp) own documentary footage plays, and is equally as powerful as the beginning. The contrast between the two beginning with a stage shot and ending with a film scene, is a cunning play on the story's own transition from stage to screen.
Some of the songs from the show translate beautifully, and just as powerfully, onto film. The performances in "I'll Cover You (Reprise)" are the most powerful in the story; this stays true in the film. Jesse L. Martin is impressive as Tom Collins, the lead singer in that piece.
Also, the song between Maureen (Idina Menzel) and Joanne (Tracie Thoms), "Take Me or Leave Me," is well done. Thoms, also a newcomer to the cast, fit right in.
In the Broadway show, Maureen's performance scene is annoying, especially when she starts mooing. The film version of this scene is an improvement. The underground feel to it is awesome and her stage is a sweet setting for the performance. That scene and the subsequent riot are more powerful and understandable in the film.
The Live Café scene, where the whole cast is part of the performance of "La Vie Boheme," is full of passion and energy. Between the colorful set, lighting and direction, it feels like you are sitting in the café watching their performance. "La Vie Boheme" is a one-song summary of the story and one of my favorite pieces in the show and it translated delightfully on screen.
Worth the money
The messages of "Rent" love, living with no regrets and that there's "no day but today" all come through as powerfully on screen as onstage. The issues in "Rent," of poverty, AIDS and homosexuality, are presented in as socially relevant a manner today as they were in 1996 when "Rent" premiered.
To have six of the original Broadway cast return adds so much to this film. They are comfortable with the material and know about the initial presence of the show and bring an energy to the film that it could have lacked without them.
Despite harsh national reviews, "Rent" is a good film in its own standing and is definitely an experience all its own, worth taking time to go see. Expect the differences, though. The film is a nice adaptation of the Broadway musical, but there is something to be said for the experience of live theater and the film version of "Rent" misses that, even if it is by a hair.