‘Rent’ celebrates life, love
Posted December 9, 2005

“Rent,” Chris Columbus’ big-screen adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s 1996 award-winning musical of the same name, is a new-age rock epic that recounts a year – or 525,600 minutes – in the lives of a group of young New York City bohemians struggling to make ends meet through various artistic outlets.

“Rent,” inspired by Giacomo Puccini’s “La Boheme,” is complete with a rock and roll soundtrack, a Jon Bon Jovi look-alike and memorably poignant scenes.

Whereas Puccini’s play was centered during the outbreak of tuberculosis, Columbus’ remake is set in the midst of the AIDS epidemic of the late ‘80s.

The musical’s subject manner is rather grim, as it tackles several serious issues ranging from AIDS and homosexuality to drug addiction and death.

The characters of “Rent” “measure their lives in love,” are related through various levels of plight, pain, love and loss and live each day as if it may be their last, as all but three of them are afflicted with HIV.

“Rent” features a cast of mostly unknowns, with the exception of Rosario Dawson and Taye Diggs, and includes several actors from Larson’s original theatrical production.

The movie is jam-packed with a diverse array of musical styles, ranging from gospel to pure rock ‘n’ roll.

The message in “Seasons of Love,” the opening number, serves as an overall theme and the songs “Light My Candle” and “Take Me or Leave Me” are heartfelt pleas for love and approval.

The bohemians of Avenue A in New York’s East Village, where the movie takes place, are a diverse group of passionate and rebellious individuals.

As the story goes, Mark Cohen (Anthony Rapp), the films’ narrator and wannabe documentary filmmaker, has recently been dumped by his self-centered performance artist girlfriend Maureen Johnson (Idina Menzel) and replaced by a woman named Joanne Jefferson (Tracie Thoms).

Roger Davis (Adam Pascal), Mark’s roommate and a jaded, HIV positive, aspiring rock star and recovering heroin addict, is plagued by the recent death of his girlfriend, and his sole aim in the movie is to pen one song to be remembered by before he, too, falls victim to AIDS.

He meets and falls in love with Mimi Marquez (Dawson), a vivaciously sexy and self-proclaimed “born to be bad” exotic dancer who suffers from several vices.

Although Roger spends most of the movie rejecting Mimi’s advances, the two ultimately become romantically involved.

Their romance is not the ordinary tale of love, however, as they are drawn together upon discovering that they share a common disease.

In one of the movie’s most tear-jerking moments, Roger pours a year’s worth of writer’s block and pent-up emotion into a song, crooning Mimi away from the light of death’s door.

The movie also focuses on the relationship between Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin), a friend of Mark and Roger’s, and Angel Schunard (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), who comes to his rescue after he is mugged and left sobbing and bleeding in an alleyway.

Angel, an HIV-positive transsexual, is the heart of the movie, as he teaches each character to love and places everyone before himself.

The relationship between Collins and Angel is possibly the most emotionally affecting aspect of the movie; their love for one another is seemingly beyond deep, as AIDS consumes Angel’s body and he progresses from vibrant and full of life, to weak and clinging to life.

Despite their personal problems, all of the characters in the movie are also faced with eviction when Benny Coffin III (Diggs) betrays his promise to provide them with free living and artistic space.

“Rent” features a strong cast of multi-talented actors with vocal abilities that far outweighed my initial expectations.

Pascal’s Bon Jovi looks and throaty vocalization create much of the film’s rock and roll feel and emotional appeal.

Dawson was also well cast, as her wild locks and earthy vocals fit her character to a tee.

While a few of the movie’s musical numbers are emotionally draining, others such as “La Vie Boheme,” an ode to the bohemian life style and its carefree, anti-law value system, and “Take Me Out Tonight,” which is sure to leave audience members howling, are uplifting and cheerful.

Though the past is never far, “Rent” preaches that “there is no day but today.”

Jessica Bell can be reached at ledjessilin@yahoo.com.

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