Rent (2005)
Directed by Chris Columbus

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * *

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Roger (Adam Pascal), an aspiring musician and former junkie, Mark (Anthony Rapp), who wants to be a documentary filmmaker, Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin), an occasionally employed professor, Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), his gay transvestite lover, and Mimi (Rosario Dawson), a heroin addicted stripper, are squatting in a building in New York's East Village. Unfortunately, Benny (Taye Diggs), the owner of this structure, has decided to refurbish it and wants these persons out. At first, he agrees to let them stay if Mark consents to get his former girlfriend to call off a protest she has planned, but, when this goes ahead, and degenerates into a riot, Benny continues with his efforts to evict the various persons living in his property.

Chris Columbus' adaptation of the musical Rent is a generally entertaining if largely undistinguished work.

The film's narrative, it must be admitted, can be heavy-handed and even manipulative. The artistic protagonists' troubles, which include their battles with the callous, money grubbing Benny, Mimi's addiction to heroin, Mark's squabbles with his ex-girlfriend, Maureen (Idina Menzel), and her new lesbian lover, Joanne (Tracie Thoms), several of the characters' knowledge that they are infected with HIV, and their coping with the death of one of their friends from AIDS, are less than subtly presented and are, at times, painfully overwrought. Somehow, however, the campy excesses of these happenings give them a cheesy appeal that frequently prevents them from being grating.

Sadly, this tale, which relates the events occurring between one Christmas and the next, has other faults besides its hammy extremes. It is occasionally amorphous, and few of the characters are especially involving. The most interesting of them, Mimi and Angel, regrettably, are those given the least screen time. Angel, in particular, is largely wasted. Those characters on whom the narrative is more focused are usually so bland or stereotyped it is almost impossible to care about them.

As overdone as Rent's story is, its other elements are never suffused with a similar sense of exaggeration. The film is utterly pedestrian and sometimes very stagey visually, and the songs, though nicely and often animatedly performed, are never truly mesmerizing. A couple of the musical numbers are, however, filled with so much energy that, even if they are not brilliantly realized, they are still fun to watch.

Finally, I should note that most of the cast members give decent though never inspired performances. While it is unlikely that many viewers will be awed by any of these persons' work, it is even more doubtful that anyone will find their efforts to be less than adequate. What is more, even if I cannot say that either of them excels, both Rosario Dawson and Wilson Jermaine Heredia have such vibrant on screen presences that they do enliven each scene in which they appear.

Rent does have a few tedious moments and is never genuinely impressive, but, whatever its shortcomings, it is usually an entertaining film.

Review by Keith Allen

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