I was very open-minded about the possibility that I would be completely surprised with “Rent.” I never drew much attention to its release into theaters, and I never bothered to see it when it was in the theater, so I approached “Rent” with as much optimism and benefit of the doubt I could muster up. Then when I was finished with it, I realized I received what I was expecting. I mean, you can’t get much from a musical with a pastiche of musical numbers that resemble a series of rejected commercial jingles. “Rent” is very apropos to the stigma of modern underground theater, with the art savants creating productions filled with supermodels representing “real” people in New York City.
New York City hardly has people walking around who look like polished Abercrombie and Fitch poster child’s. Granted, the opening musical number is pretty good, especially when you consider the individual talents among the cast. I won’t deny the fleeting bit of hope I was given by it, only to watch the general flavor of the music and story sink it down. At the end of the day it’s still just a bunch of models bitching about not being able to pay the rent. The film just has that two-faced disingenuous quality about it where it seems to force on the audience that it’s actually trying to say something about the impoverished, and minorities, through a bunch of polished, good looking people. In some odd way they are supposed to represent lower class America—and that irony in itself represents what America is all about.
Assuming real America can be personified by the models and the good looking artists. Beyond the musical numbers, there’s really not much of a story. They’re dealing with AIDS, getting into love triangles, and trying to find a way to make money to pay off the rent and not be kicked out. That’s basically all there is, and then there are the musical numbers that never tend to actually linger as most songs do. They’re catchy, but basically forgettable, and the film is constantly moving without ever trying to tell the story of these characters. The writer never seems to want to break free too much from the stage play, and instead forces the same formula on the screen, so “Rent” never feels like a play adapted to film (i.e. Chicago), but more like a play hastily forced on celluloid.
It’s not as forgettable and limp as “Phantom of the Opera,” but for all it has potential for, “Rent” is a very forced and hasty adaptation that never tries to fit into its mold and instead feels like a vain attempt to market off the fame of the play, while it markets off the awfully superficial values it puts down. If a bunch of models living in a huge apartment without income is America, then I live in Bizarro World.