Friday, March 09, 2007

We're not gonna pay the rent!

Then you should be evicted.

I watched the film version of Rent today. A trainwreck through and through. Is it just the film? Or is it a flawed play?

The story was really nothing to write home about. Based on La Boheme, Rent tells the tale of a gaggle of twenty-something artists living in 1980's Manhattan. All of the characters are affected by the AIDS virus, either physically or emotionally. It's a tough subject to tackle, and especially tough in musical form. Still, the AIDS aspect of the story is done well. It's the rest of the story that falls flat for me. Maybe it's a problem I have with musicals in general (although Chicago held my attention and Cannibal: The Musical is classic). The story is oftentimes more a piecemeal string of vignettes than a coherent narrative, only there to lead one lavish musical number to another. Rent is no exception.

The acting. Where to start? Somebody in the higher-ups (whether it be director Chris Columbus or a studio head) decided to cast the majority of the original performers in the film. Mistake. The most common complaint leveled against them seems to be that they're too old for the parts, which may be true. However, that didn't bug me a bit. Hollywood never casts age properly. What really bugged me was the stiffness of it all. You'd think that spending night after night in-character for years would give the actor a sort of understanding of the character, but all it seems to do is make them comfortable--too comfortable and too familiar--with the role. The actors seem to be going through the motions. An open-minded casting call certainly would have been the right decision for this film, as evidenced by the one new addition to the lead cast: Rosario Dawson.

Rosario plays a go-go dancer that lives a floor below the protagonists. She lights up the screen with her charisma (and her candle) from the moment she steps in the door in her first scene. When the most lively and effective acting is done by the only newcomer, it uncovers a distinctive flaw in your casting strategy. I'm not saying that the films should have been filled with name-actors (even of Dawson's mid-level caliber). Instead, a more open interpretation of the roles should have been utilized to breathe new life into the play. There's a distinct difference between film-acting and Broadway-acting, and what we get here is Broadway-acting.

But when you look at a musical, story and acting understandably take a backseat to the real stars: the music and the dancing. And what we get is not really worth the time. The melodies are not catchy. The instrumentation is cheesy--mostly synths and electric instruments, which may fit the 1980's time period but aren't exactly interesting. A quick glance at the soundtrack album offers 28 songs, and I could count the number of tracks that made any sort of impression on me on one hand without fear of running out of fingers.

There are some truly moving moments in the film. My favorite moment was when the attendees of an AIDS support group voice their fears. Starting with the plaintive pleas of one character, the others express the same worry in the form of a round. It's a beautiful piece, and it embodies the entire "support-group" situation more than any of the surrounding, poorly-staged support group scenes could have done.

Still, it's bad. How bad? Really bad. It's a play about art and AIDS that says absolutely nothing about art or AIDS. Save the money and pay your own rent.

1 comment:

Review the World said...

rosario is one of my favorites in today's scene.. - and, i agree.. cannibal: the musical is brilliant.. - i actually got the oppourtunity to see it theatrically as part of a Troma film festival several years ago..