Rent (2005)

(In theaters, November 2005) Movie musicals may engender a lot of sarcastic comments about their fey nature, but a good one will successfully use the tools of cinematographic grammar to create an experience quite unlike anything else in other mediums. This makes adapting a stage musical a tricky proposition at best: a bland director will simply copy the original staging and let the camera roll. Now let’s face it; there are fewer blander directors than Chris Columbus, and his Rent may have a few good moments here and there, but it seldom coheres into a top-notch movie musical. For every “La Vie Boheme” or “Tango Maureen”, the film muddles through syrupy ballads and what looks suspiciously like mid-1980s music videos. Part of the film approach self-parody: Not only was it difficult to see the film without thinking about Team America‘s “Everybody’s got AIDS!” number, but I was never convinced that Maureen’s performance wasn’t meant to be a satire of truly awful performance art. This, and other missteps such as having artists agonize over selling out, make it remarkably easy to be cynical about the Gap-branded lip service paid to vie bohème counterculture. Not that the film is a complete disaster, mind you: Rosario Dawson is scorching hot and the whole experience is superficially pleasant. But it’s nowhere near the height of what we’ve seen movie musicals achieve since Moulin Rouge! singlehandedly revived the genre.

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