La Boneheaded

Columbus Alive | November 24, 2005
Chris Columbus always has his credits as writer of The Goonies and director of Home Alone to fall back on, but lately he’s found a new way to distinguish himself, sort of. Columbus has become the go-to guy for film adaptations of previously existing material that carries a rabid, demanding fan base. With the first two Harry Potter films, he proved capable of translating this material to screen relatively unadulterated, with little or no personality of his own peeking through, and he does the same for the film adaptation of the hit Broadway musical about a clash between bohemian values and property values. Columbus may appease the already initiated, but he’ll likely bore, if not torture, everyone else.

The movie version arrives almost a decade after the production’s premiere and 15 years after it’s supposed to take place, and the delay is often palpable. Centering on the lives and ambitions of young, creative New Yorkers squatting in an Alphabet City tenement, including an aspiring filmmaker named Roger (Adam Pascal), a philosophy professor (Jesse L. Martin) and Mimi (Rosario Dawson), a gorgeous junkie stripper, the minimal storyline is mostly told through song. Lyrics, sets and atmospheric lighting conjure a vision of pre-gentrified lower Manhattan as a charmed, charred fantasy land, safe but dangerous if the plot requires, where graffiti and flames dot the streets, AIDS sufferers are luminous until it’s time to go to the hospital, and the Village Voice is a bastion of the counterculture.

In the present, where the squatters and the graffiti have been removed and the Voice is the flagship of a giant media conglomerate, Rent seems, at best, quaint, an ideal of boho culture in which performance art, even the really bad performance art unleashed by group wildcat Maureen (Idina Menzel), has the power to give real estate developers pause. At worst, it’s a depressing and dated co-option and sanitization of the lifestyle it claims to celebrate. When a street person who Roger films chastises him for trying to make art from other people’s suffering, irony is completely absent.

But this movie isn’t meant for analysis, it’s meant for Rent heads, as casting makes clear; most of the original stage cast has returned, through they’re now a little long in the tooth for the twentysomething spiritual wanderers they portray. And if the preview audience I saw it with is any indication, the fans will be satisfied, though screenwriter Steve Chbosky made a major third act change that betrays something in both the play Rent and its original musical source, Puccini’s La Bohème.

For anyone with a greater affinity for the actual boho lifestyle than the Broadway version, while watching characters dance on tables and profess their devotion to the Sex Pistols and “Anarchy!” this movie can feel like the very last nail sealing its coffin. But to be fair to Columbus, the stage production pounded one in first.

Columbus Alive

Founded in 1983, Alive is the Capital City's oldest and only independent alternative and is known for providing a forum for the area's free thinkers. The paper's spirited and original perspective on music, arts and culture distinguish it from the...
More »
Contact for Reprint Rights
  • Market Served: Metropolitan Area
  • Address: 62 E. Broad St., Columbus, OH 43215
  • Phone: (614) 221-2449