In honor of the new semester, it feels like a good time to make a lot of people very angry — so let’s talk about “Rent.”
In 1996, Jonathan Larson’s magnum opus about struggling bohemian youth in the Lower East Side of New York took Broadway by storm, dragging the medium of musical theater kicking and screaming into the modern age — supposedly.
What actually happened was a deeply pretentious musical mostly about people expecting the world to be nicer inexplicably captured the hearts and minds of an entire generation. To this day, speaking ill of “Rent” in a musical theater crowd is akin to a death sentence. But at least we can all agree the movie is terrible, right?
Released in 2005 from noted bohemian wild child Chris Columbus, director of counter-cultural masterpieces such as “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Home Alone,” the film adaptation of “Rent” can be classified as little more than a spectacular disappointment. Although it managed to bring back much of the original cast, including a certain wicked witch/ice queen known as Maureen, “Rent” is massively let down by its perspective on the heavy subject matter.
The film and show both seek to position themselves as the moral high ground, portraying the lives of underprivileged, trod-upon denizens of the Lower East Side in an unfiltered way the rest of the media won’t show you.
What we get instead is a main character, Mark, who is the avatar of straight white male arrogance run amok. Mark has a loving family who visibly cares about him, a massive support network and an amount of job offers your average post-grad would kill for. And yet, Mark decides to ignore this all and slum it, moping about not wanting to pay his rent like every other adult. But he’s not like every other adult, of course. He’s an artist!
Of course, the word “artist” can only be used to describe Mark in the same way “masterpiece” can be used to describe the fourth “Transformers” movie. When you see his film toward the end of the movie, it can be described as mediocre at best, and up-its-own-ass pretentious at worst. Honestly, the only good part of the movie is when Mark asks a homeless woman if he can film her for his movie, and she rips him a new one for not providing actual help.
If the movie would actually explore this plot line more it might be able to garner some respect, but no. It instead glosses over this entirely valid point and decides that Mark is above scrutiny. It’s impossible to decide what the worst part about this is — that the movie genuinely believes this is an okay thing to do, or that it completely forgot to develop what might have been an interesting plot thread.
Looking beyond the imbecilic pile of cartilage and self-righteousness that is our main character, the rest of “Rent” is chock full of issues. Maureen is one of the most blatantly awful people ever put to screen. “Seasons of Love” is an earworm in the worst way possible and a character who dies of AIDS is apparently brought back by true love’s kiss. I don’t think I’m kidding, unfortunately.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go hide in my bunker before the fangirls chop my head off while scream-singing “La Vie Boheme.”