Apr 8, 2013

Rent: 8 Friends, 3 Romances

Not one for musicals, I've never seen Rent, the Tony-winning 1995 Broadway musical, about a group of friends living in the artistic Bohemia of southern Manhattan during the heart of the AIDS crisis, in 1989 and 1990.  But I just saw the 2005 movie version.  A couple of problems with it:

#1: The convoluted, hystrionic melodrama.
Most musicals have four people falling in and out of love. Rent has eight:

The Lesbians. Performance artist Maureen breaks up with struggling filmmaker Mark and falls for Joanne, an Ivy-League African-American attorney.  But she has trouble staying faithful, so they break up.

The Heterosexuals. Struggling, HIV-positive musician Roger, who lost his girlfriend to AIDS, falls for heroin-addict prostitute Mimi, but can't bring himself to commit, so she begins seeing the wealthy, married Benjamin Coffin (Taye Diggs, left), who also happens to be Mark and Roger's landlord.

The Gays. NYU Professor Tom Collins falls for HIV-positive drag queen Angel, who dies.
Got all of that?

#2: How do these people know each other?
In what world do impoverished drag queens and heroin-addicted prostitutes hang out with Ivy-League attorneys and NYU professors?  Wouldn't class distinctions be a problem?  And if they do happen to all be close friends, why does the immensely wealthy Ivy-League attorney let the struggling filmmaker and musician nearly starve to death and get evicted due to non-payment of rent?

#3: Major continuity problems
On Christmas Eve, 1989, Mark is starving and destitute, Roger (Adam Pascal, left) meets Mimi, and Angel meets Tom. There's a "everybody hanging out and getting to know each other" montage, and then suddenly it's New Year's Eve, Mark is affluent, with a documentary tv series, and Roger/Mimi and Angel/Tom are long-term couples. You think a year has passed, but no, only a week.

Maureen asks Joanne to marry her. Cut to the most lavish wedding I have ever seen in the most ornate hotel, with both of their parents beaming and saying things like "I'm so happy that my daughter has chosen such a wonderful partner."  You think it's a fantasy sequence.  Nope, they put the whole thing together in a couple of days.

#4: Unrealistic HIV

Roger and Mimi are both HIV positive, but other than taking medication, they have no problems.  Angel has the sort of AIDS where you're completely healthy and energetic up until your final dying montage.

#5: I Love/Hate New York

First they sing about how much they hate New York, with its cold, dirty streets and horrible crime; they want to run away to Santa Fe and open a restaurant.  Then they sing about how much they love New York, with its freedom and happiness and universal friendship. So is New York a horrifying hellhole where everyone wants to kill you, or a pastoral Utopia where everyone is eager to be your friend?

But there were a few things I liked about it:

#1. A homoromantic subtext between Mark and Roger, who leaves, spends time living on the street in Santa Fe, then returns, to a big reconciliation.

#2.Mark is played by Anthony Rapp (left), a former teen star (Adventures in Babysitting) who is gay in real life.

#3.Angel (played by Wilson Jermaine Heredia) had an infectious good humor and a series of fabulous outfits (that she apparently made for herself out of scraps).

#4. Joanne (played by Tracey Thoms) had an excellent singing voice.

#5. "La Vie Boheme," a paeon to everything unconventional:

Bisexuals, trisexuals, homo sapiens,
Carcinogens, hallucinogens, Pee Wee Herman,
German wine, turpentine, Gertrude Stein
Antonioni, Bertolucci, Kurosawa, Carmina Burana
Apathy, entropy, empathy, ecstasy
Vaclav Havel, The Sex Pistols, 8BC
Sontag, Sondheim, anything taboo