Rent: Fron the Stage to Screen

The long awaited film version of Jonathan Larson’s award winning musical, Rent, opened last week, bringing in a disappointing five million dollars at the box office. Directed by Chris Columbus, Rent traces the lives of a group of friends struggling to survive in New York City’s East Village. We have Roger (Adam Pascal), an aspiring songwriter, who is still dealing with the suicide of his girlfriend and has contracted HIV despite kicking his heroin habit. Then there is Mimi (Rosario Dawson); the exotic dancer who lives downstairs and helps Roger unravel from his hermitage, who happens to be HIV positive as well, yet still “chases the dragon.” Any group of tortured artistic souls would not be complete if it were not for that one friend who goes out of his/her way to “make sense of it all” and in Rent, it’s weenie Long Island boy turned big city filmmaker, Mark Cohen (Anthony Rapp). Drag queen/street performer, Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) and his partner, Tom Collins (Jessie L. Martin) inspire the group to challenge their surroundings and to actively live what they preach, which is to live in the moment — “no day but today.” The romance between Angel and Collins is perhaps the most refreshing relationship to see evolve on the screen. Angel is portrayed as quite the angel indeed. He nurtures Collins back to health after being mugged and brings light into his frustrating days inherently belonging to a college professor. Their love is something their friends, as well as the audience, admires and deep down wishes they possessed because it is simply love at first sight: raw and uninhibited. For those familiar with the Broadway production, you will feel that there is something missing, despite the fact that 95 percent of the cast is of the original Broadway cast. The luxury of the time credited to the stage makes the audience member feel they are invited to partake in something very personal in the lives of the characters. The bare stage and minimal use of props allows for such a great investment in their emotional turn of events. In the film, the urgency of not having it be as long as the stage production is felt and the message of love and of “carpe diem” feels forced and becomes too pounded into our minds. Columbus does an excellent job of staying true to Larson’s intentions. There is only one scene in the film (a civil union of sorts between Maureen and Joanne) that does not take place on the stage. However, it is included in an appropriate manner with grace and humor. Rent is filled with colorful and vibrant characters, sensational music, and stories that explore the human condition. The price of admission alone is worth it for Rosario Dawson’s rendition of “Take Me Out Tonight.” Amidst all chaos and tragedy surfacing in society, the messages of Rent should be full-heartedly received this holiday season.