Plain and simple, Rent is one of the best known musicals, internationally, of this day and age. The musical took Broadway by storm, and when they made a movie musical in 2005, the popularity of Rent soared to new heights.
The movie version differs from the stage version in one main way: the stage musical is done completely in song, mimicking the opera that it is based on, while the film version is interlaced with actual speaking. This difference was absolutely done to appease both the theater audience and the movie audience. Although, it does take a lot of ambition to make a movie musical that has nothing but singing, the song breaks and dialogue were done to give the film a better flow. When a film audience is presented with nothing but singing in a movie, it can feel very forced (looking at you, 2012’s Les Misérables). Stephen Chbosky does a wonderful job translating the musical book into a format that works on screen.
Nearly all of the original Broadway cast is used in this film version, save for the characters of Mimi and Joanne, who are portrayed by Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms, both of whom embody those characters. There’s clearly a family here with these actors, and you can tell that just from the way they all relate to each other. The amount of talent, not only in the main cast, but in the company, is impressive.
Thought was clearly put into which songs would stay in the film version, and which songs would be left out. Honestly, the only one that I’m bummed about being left out is “Goodbye, Love”. Thankfully, the film cast recorded a version of it for the soundtrack. Each song left in the film moves the plot along. There aren’t any songs that are superfluous, which is perfect for film.
I feel like, at this point, Rent is either a film that is loved or hated. And, I just don’t understand the hate. The story is beautifully adapted from La Boheme, while original author Jonathan Larson incorporated some of his real life experiences into the plot. I don’t know how somebody could watch this simultaneously heartbreaking and uplifting story unfold and walk away not liking anything about it. If they don’t like musicals, then fine. I guess I get it. But I don’t get how there wouldn’t be any appreciation for the material at all.
Jonathan Larson did not live long enough to see his work turned into a film. He didn’t even live long enough to see his work unfold on stage. He suddenly passed away the night before the premiere of the stage musical, which shook everybody to their core. I’d like to think that, had he been alive to see the film, he would have enjoyed it. He would have thought that his message was clearly presented. I don’t think he could have ever imagined, though, the cultural impact that his musical would have.
Whether you’ve seen the stage musical or movie musical or haven’t seen either, you probably know something from this film, and it’s most likely the opening number that sets the tone for the film and the message for the entire story: life is short, make the most of every minute you have because you never know what minute will be your last.