Rosario Dawson as Mimi Marquez
Taye Diggs as Benjamin “Benny” Coffin, III
Wilson Jermaine Heredia as Angel Schunard
Jesse L. Martin as Thomas B. “Tom” Collins
Idina Menzel as Maureen Johnson
Adam Pascal as Roger Davis
Anthony Rapp as Mark Cohen
Tracie Thoms as Joanne Jefferson
Amateur filmmaker Mark (Anthony Rapp) and his friends, including wannabe rock-n-roller Roger (Adam Pascal) and philosopher Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin), live in bohemian poverty on New York’s Lower East Side as they search for higher expressions about life despite the problems of everyday life afflicting them, including upcoming eviction, drug abuse, and AIDS.
Based on Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer and Tony award winning stage musical, Chris (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”) Columbus’s adaptation is extremely faithful to its source material — a bit too faithful in fact. It often comes across as extremely stagey as it bounces a bit clumsily from musical number to musical number. Song and dance routines are not the best ways to express subtle nuances, with the result that “Rent” is often extremely broad in both characterization and story. In particular, major story beats are often glossed over in one beat of a song, or occur off screen in between numbers. As it is, the story is more of a mechanism to be sat through in between musical numbers.
The numbers themselves are stirring and well done, and each member of the cast gets a chance to show off their skills, with the exception of Taye Diggs, who gets very little to do. Pascal comes across as a bit of a Jon Bon Jovi impersonator, but Martin makes for an impressive song and dance man. It’s unfortunate there was no place for his dramatic skills as well despite there being plenty of opportunity for it as his lover Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) slowly succumbs to AIDS.
There are some interesting ideas about the need for humanity to connect together and the ridiculousness of putting limits on the type of connection, but at the same time, it drifts into banal thoughts on the superiority of the bohemian lifestyle, culminating in quite possibly the worst piece of performance art of all time (and it’s hard to tell whether it was meant to be that way or not).
“Rent” is a thoroughly well done stage musical, but what works on stage doesn’t always work exactly the same on film, and some additions to flesh out the story would have helped tremendously. As strong as the music is, there’s not much tying them together; it’s a series of sequences, not a film story.
“Rent” is rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving drugs and sexuality, and for some strong language.