Rent was the right musical at the right time. It was a modern, hip musical dealing with issues that young people could relate to, and was responsible for legions of new fans for the performing arts. Here's something that many of those new fans didn't realize - Rent, loosely based on La Boheme, wasn't that great. It was only a matter of time before a film adaptation would arrive, and takes the musical down a few more notches. The best aspect of Rent is that director Chris Columbus (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone) reassembled six of the eight original cast members. These are all extremely talented actors, and comfortable in their roles, and comfortable with singing.

Rent's songs and music, by Jonathan Larson (who tragically died the night before Rent opened) still soars, and is the strongest aspect of the film. Columbus successfully transitions the musical from the stage to the screen. Somebody unfamiliar with the original musical would not guess that this movie originally took place on a stage. All scene transitions feel natural, and Rent never has an artificial feeling like some other stage adaptations do. The movie begins like the musical, with all eight principals standing on a stage illuminated by spotlights and singing "Seasons of Love." This is Columbus' homage to his source material. The sequence then shifts very organically, and cinematically to the film itself. The one drawback to the music is that it feels a bit too dubbed. Of course the actors are singing, but it all feels like they sang during filming then dubbed everything over with music later in editing.

The deficiencies come in the story. Rent follows six friends over the course of a year. All are poor and considered "outcasts." They struggle with love, their dreams, and paying the rent. Mark Cohen (Anthony Rapp, A Beautiful Mind, Road Trip) and is an aspiring filmmaker. His roommate Roger Davis (Adam Pascal, The School of Rock, SLC Punk!) is a struggling musician, but cannot finish even one song. Their friend Tom Collins (Jesse L. Martin, Restaurant) has AIDS, and is now dating cross-dressing Angel Schunard (Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Flawless, Went to Coney Island on a Mission From God...Be Back by Five). Cohen's girlfriend Maureen Johnson (Idina Menzel, Just a Kiss, Kissing Jessica Stein) broke up with him and is now dating lawyer Joanne Jefferson (Tracie Thoms, Brother to Brother, The Warrior Class). Johnson is also protesting against Benjamin Coffin III (Taye Diggs, Malibu's Most Wanted, Basic). Coffin was once a friend of everybody in the group. He now wants to demolish the building that Davis and Cohen live in to build new businesses. Finally, Mimi Marquez (Rosario Dawson, Sin City, Alexander) is a heroin addict who lives downstairs from Davis and begins a relationship with him.

The play, and adapter Steve Chbosky (The Four Corners of Nowhere) take pains to introduce and differentiate all of the characters, then fly through the next year, stopping only a few times to check in on the characters. It's necessary given the time constraints, but this reduces the ability for three-dimensional characters. Columbus compensates by shedding light on what passes in montages, but that does not substitute. Some of the machinations of the story come across as a tad melodramatic and even sappy. This tends to work better on stage, and is one of the problems of adaptations of musicals. Chances are, people who enjoyed the musical will enjoy this adaptation. Others will like it, but not understand what all the hype was about.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
2 hours, 15 minutes, Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material involving drugs and sexuality, and for some strong language.

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