‘Rent’ comes in too late, and way too long
On the journey from Alphabet City via Broadway to Hollywood, “Rent” seems to have gotten lost in time.
For all its focus on time ” the recurring theme is a year in the lives of a bunch of East Village bohemians ” “Rent” is comically unclear on the concept. It’s an avant-garde snapshot of an unforgettable year during an important era, but arrives roughly a decade too late to matter. And in capturing that year on the grand scale of a Broadway show, “Rent” loses itself again, this time in its own excess, an interminable 2 hours, 15 minutes.
The time problem pervades and tarnishes nearly every moment of “Rent.” It starts with the setting and the casting: The introductory voice-over from Mark Cohen (actor Anthony Rapp) informs us it’s Dec. 30, 1989. According to the Internet Movie Database, most of the principals ” Rapp, Taye Diggs, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin, Idina Menzel and Adam Pascal ” assume their roles from the original Broadway production of “RENT” in 1996. It’s now 2005, and it’s getting a little difficult to buy any of them as young Manhattan bohos. Coupled with the spacious loft on which roommates Mark and Roger (Pascal) owe the titular rent, all those thirtysomethings running around make “Rent” look more like “Friends ” the Musical.”
The original Broadway musical was revolutionary when it came out, but since then, even network TV has come up with more challenging stuff, dating the movie hopelessly. The casting certainly doesn’t help here, either. Rapp’s too old to play angry young artist, Pascal could well be a Bon Jovi refugee, and newcomer Rosario Dawson’s too wholesome for me to buy as a stripper. And as Menzel mugs her way through a performance piece, waggling her prizefighter’s jaw at the audience from a bank of video screens, it crystallizes what’s wrong with “Rent.”
Maureen’s grating shtick now seems like a safe, sanitized take on an edgy performance piece. Same for the movie’s lite rock Broadway soundtrack: I realize it’s a musical, but I’m not sure showtunes could ever convey urban angst circa 1989 as effectively as, say, Public Enemy. Even the high point, a barroom rendition of “La Vie Boheme,” comes off merely rowdy rather than risque. Despite its being about AIDS, heroin and poverty, “Rent” seems like it suffered the same kind of Disneyfication as Times Square.
The soundtrack doesn’t help the other misplacement in time, either, as it seems none of the characters can say two lines without bursting into a multisong suite. Saying it’s more than two hours doesn’t do “Rent” justice ” “punishing” is a much better adjective for its runtime. By the end, you’ll feel like you’ve endured every one of those 525,600 minutes they keep singing about in the opening/closing number. And don’t be fooled when you hear it again and the pictures from the intro pop back up: You’re only on the home stretch.
But by then, it’s too late, but then again “Rent” is too late to be relevant anyway. Consider this your final notice.
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Five candidates are running for three seats on the Garfield Re-2 school board this year.