Sunday, December 04, 2005

FILM: Rent

Rent is my favorite Broadway musical. I've seen it six times, and we chose one of its songs (I'll Cover You) as the processional for our wedding. So we were very excited when we heard a film version was being made. Of course where such near-reverence is involved, the danger is high of the film version not living up to the stage experience. Fortunately, director Chris Columbus has done an awesome job of realizing Rent on screen. Rather than filming it theatrically, he re-envisioned it cinematically, using lush visual imagery, flashbacks, and montages. The result is a vivid presentation, different yet faithful to the original story. The opening number is a visual conceit of dozens of East Village denizens tossing burning eviction notices into the street (the imagery is beautiful, though you must indulge the suspension of disbelief that some broke bohemian squatters could have more candles in their flat than Pottery Barn). One Song Glory shows us Roger's earlier rock star life in flashback, adding depth to the lyrics. Out Tonight starts by showing us Mimi dancing at the Cat Scratch Club. Rapturous scenery of East Village life, New York skylines, and at one point New Mexico vistas all compliment the story beautifully. The film used most of the original Broadway cast, who (despite the grumblings of some churlish critics about their age) all translated wonderfully to film. (Most of this cast is only in their thirties. Do those critics think there are no bohemians over thirty?) And the two "newcomers" fit right in. Tracie Thoms is a feisty Joanne with a knock-out voice. Rosario Dawson looks, moves, and sings Mimi as good as any I've seen, and has such expressive eyes that there's no doubt why Roger writes a song about them. Those who have well-worn cast recordings will recognize some changes: there is a bit of added dialog, and some recitative elements in the original become plain speech in the film. There were a few small sacrifices: for example, Halloween and Goodbye Love didn't make the final cut (though they were reportedly filmed and are on the movie soundtrack, we hope to see them in the extended version on DVD). But the end result is completely faithful and beautifully creative.

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