Review: Rent

It's been Jed's movie week.

Narnia last weekend; Æon Flux Monday night; Brokeback Mountain last night (review to come later). And Rent on Tuesday. I'm tired of missing movies in theatres and having to wait for them to come out on DVD; there's certainly a lot to like about the DVD experience (and about bypassing high ticket prices and obnoxious audiences), but sometimes nothing but a big screen will do.

I went into Rent with some trepidation, though for different reasons than my Narnia trepidation. I don't usually see musicals without knowing something about them, and I don't often see film musicals without having seen the stage version and/or heard the cast album. But I do adore the best-known song from Rent, "Seasons of Love," and I've been meaning to listen to a cast album for a while, and I'm unlikely to see the stage version anytime soon. So I figured I'd gamble on the movie.

My reactions were mixed. There were some really lovely moments, and some great songs, and I liked almost all of the cast. (I realized recently that I've barely mentioned the actors in my recent comments on movies; they've pretty much all been good.) But there were also bits that put me off or made me impatient, and other bits that felt kinda emotionally manipulative, and a couple of songs I didn't like much at all. (Unfortunately, at least one of them was intermixed with one I did like a fair bit.)

On the other hand, I did mostly enjoy the movie overall, and I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I'd known certain things about it.

For example, I had vaguely known that it was originally based on Puccini's opera La Boheme (which was in turn based on Scenes de la Vie de Boheme by Henri Murger), but I had forgotten that while watching the movie. From what I can tell by reading the synopsis of La Boheme, it's a fairly faithful adaptation in a lot of ways, even though I don't think Rent in its final form was meant to be an adaptation per se. And I found the history of the creation of Rent a compelling story; I think in retrospect I'd have preferred to know that story before seeing the movie, even though it contains some spoilers.

Various things in the movie also make more sense and/or work better if you know what happens in the stage version; arguably, I'd have enjoyed the movie more if I'd read the stage version's plot summary first, but of course I had no way of knowing that. For example, the stage version's description of how Roger's girlfriend died is a lot more of a shock than the film version's glossing-over of that point. And the passage of time in the film version seems to me fairly arbitrary and hard to follow, while I gather it's much more coherent in the stage version. (Thanks much to W. for telling me about differences between film and stage versions.)

One thing that I can't chalk up to the filmmakers is that some of the lyrics to songs just don't quite work for me. Even "Seasons of Love"--I keep wanting them to be a little more profound than they are, and some of the lines (in various of the songs) just sound kinda clunky to me. I suspect that my opinion of them will improve on repeated exposure, though.

(Though my other minor annoyance with some of the songs that I otherwise liked best was that they were pretty repetitive. At least two of them went on for about two verses longer than I thought they should have, verses that were exact repetitions of previous verses. But that, too, might get better when I listen to the songs again.)

There were about nine songs I particularly liked--enough that I'll buy a soundtrack recording, though I'm not sure whether to get the movie soundtrack or the original Broadway cast album. I wasn't thrilled with the title song or "Today 4 U" or Maureen's protest performance ("Over the Moon"), but I at least liked most of the rest of the songs.

Oh, and I was a little disappointed with the placement of "Seasons of Love" in the movie--it felt weird to have that be the very first song, and the version I was waiting for didn't show up until the end of the closing credits. But it continues to be my favorite song from the show, and it continued to run through my head all week. (The extreme earwormness of it may eventually result in it not being my favorite song from the show; I can only take so much repetition.)

The iTunes Music Store has both the Broadway cast album and the movie soundtrack album. But those, of course, provide only 30-second clips of each track. You can hear most of the movie soundtrack album on the official movie site, at least if you have Flash Player; not all of every song, but a surprising amount of most of the songs.

Some of the songs I liked best in the movie:

  • Seasons of Love
  • One Song Glory
  • Light My Candle
  • Life Support
  • Another Day
  • Will I
  • I'll Cover You
  • I Should Tell You
  • Without You

I think the sentiment I liked best was from "Another Day," but showed up a couple of other times as well (if I remember right):

There's only us

There's only this

Forget regret

Or life is yours to miss

No other road

No other way

No day but today.

2 Responses to “Review: Rent”

  1. Tempest

    Without You is one of my favorite songs of all time. I really feel they could have released that as a single. You don’t need to know the story to feel the sentiment. I think that your feeling of the songs going on too long or having some clunky lyrics and etc. may be due to the fact that J. Larsen died so soon. It may be that after the first few months of performances he might have tweaked and revised a little. For a show that was somewhere between being raw and polished, it’s pretty good. But after Larsen died, I’m sure no one even entertained a thought of messing with it too much.

    I haven’t seen the movie yet. Next weekend, most likely, when my best friend is in town. We saw the play together, did the whole first row ticket lottery, sang songs at each other across hundreds of miles 😉 So we’re going to see the movie together and cry.

    I’ll Cover You is another favorite song, but I like the funeral version best. I don’t know if they did that in the movie. (if so, it’s okay to spoil me on it)

  2. Wayman

    “I’ll Cover You” becomes even more poignant when you know that the first time it was ever performed for an audience was at Jonathan’s funeral.

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