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RENT

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel, Adam Pascal, Anthony Rapp, Tracie Thoms
Director: Chris Columbus
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Sony Home Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 135 Minutes
Release Date: February 21, 2006

“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!”

Film ***1/2

If you live too far away from Broadway and aren’t able to experience the show before your eyes, then the movies are the next best medium to deliver its effect. I can’t think of a better example than the movie version of Rent. The stage musical sensation, which has celebrated a ten year run on Broadway, has received a larger-than-life screen transformation courtesy of director Chris Columbus.

Rent was the first stage musical to deal specifically with AIDS and HIV. The director and composer, Jonathan Larson, had a most personal story to tell. Tragically, Larson died of AIDS right on the eve of the show’s first live performance back in 1995. However, Larson’s spirit lives on through the energetic and emotional story he created.

The film version reunites most of the original cast members of the stage version, along with a couple of newcomers to the cast. The story tells of a year in the life of musicians and artists struggling to make it in a harsh reality in and around New York’s East Village. It chronicles the daily plight of seven characters that become the closest of friends while dealing with struggles such as paying rent, drug addiction and the AIDS virus.

The main focus is roommates Roger (Adam Pascal) and Mark (Anthony Rapp). Roger is a former rock star and drug addict, who has kicked the habit but is in a career slum, attempting but failing at writing a strong comeback song. Mark is piecing together a documentary about real life which, as the opening song puts it, seems more like fiction these days.

They have a friend named Collins (Jesse L. Martin), who is suffering from AIDS. After getting mugged and beat down in an alley, he is saved by Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia), a transvestite who also has AIDS. In a caring act, Angel then takes Collins to a Life Support group for people with AIDS. They fall in love, as well.

Meanwhile, Roger finds himself slowly falling for Mimi (Rosario Dawson), a neighbor in his building who also happens to be a drug addict. It’s hard for Roger to express any feelings for her, since her actions remind him of a past relationship, one that ended in a death from drugs. But Mimi may have the inspiration for him to write music again, as well as fall in love.

Lastly, there’s Maureen (Idina Menzel), a town activist who is also Mark’s ex-girlfriend. She’s now taken up with a lawyer named Joanne (Tracie Thoms). The reason for her break up with Mark is clear as her new relationship is on the brink of disaster with Joanne, she is a pure flirt.

There’s an eight character named Benny (Taye Diggs), once a roommate of Mark and Roger’s. He has since sold his soul to corporate America, and is now the landlord who has threatened them with loss of power and possible eviction. But Maureen stages a protest as a way of fighting back.

Perhaps I’ve gone into too much of the plot. The heart and soul of Rent is the musical numbers, and there is hardly a moment when a character isn’t expressing his or herself through song. And Larson’s songs are ones of true power and deliver a huge effect with a glorious harmony. The opening sequence, a cast performance of the engaging “Seasons of Love” should indicate the powerful music that is to follow.

Among the show-stopping numbers, there’s Rosario Dawson’s eye-catching striptease dance as she croons “Out Tonight”. That song is shortly followed by “Another Day”, a passionate duet from Dawson and Adam Pascal. A few songs draw pure emotion, such as the heart-wrenching “I’ll Cover You”, while others get the toes tapping, such as the pricelessly upbeat “La Vie Boheme”.

But the true power of Rent comes during the finale. A tragic event occurs, followed by a something of a beautiful surprise. I dare you not to be moved by Pascal’s performance of “Mimi”, as well as the cast performance of “No Day But Today”, a back-to-back emotional firehouse of music.

I have never seen Rent on stage, but the movie has fully succeeded in making me want to experience it, which is a definite good sign of any screen translation. Chris Columbus has found all the right notes in transforming the classic stage musical into a one of a kind motion picture experience. Rent is one movie event you won’t soon forget, and won’t ever regret!

Video ****

Sony has delivered the goods once again with this fantastic anamorphic presentation (Full Frame available separately. The image quality is nothing but continuous sharp quality and consistent clarity. The New York City set pieces have never looked more authentic. Not a dull moment in sight!

Audio ****

Musicals always deliver their presence wonderfully in the DVD format, and Rent is nothing short of amazing in this regard. The 5.1 mix is absolutely stunning in its delivery of every single tune, and they’re a lot of them! The sound system gets a good rocking from left to right and from front to back, making this perhaps the closest thing to the quality of the Broadway show. Superb and magnificent all the way!

Features ****

This 2-Disc set from Sony is a real treat, as long-devoted fans of Rent are sure to be heavily satisfied.

Disc One includes the feature film as well as a commentary track with director Chris Columbus and selected cast members.

Disc Two includes a fantastic and in-depth documentary titled “No Day But Today”, which traces the entire production and transformation of the movie from stage to screen. Also featured are deleted scenes and extended musical sequences, PSA’s for Jonathan Larson’s Performing Arts Foundation and the National Marfan Foundation, and several bonus previews.

Summary:

It’s time to pay your Rent, as one of the most treasured musicals in Broadway’s history gets a most amazing screen adaptation thanks to Chris Columbus and the hugely dedicated cast. Prepared to be rocked and moved by Jonathan Larson’s powerful swan song!

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