Reviewed by: Martin Gray

The 1996 Broadway musical comes to the big screen having won thousands of fans, huge praise and every theatrical award you could name - heck, it's even bagged a Pulitzer Prize, so you can imagine how good it is.

I recommend you stick with that imaginary version of Rent - it has to be better than the real thing, which had even a big old fan of musicals like me reaching for the earplugs. I listen to Elaine Paige on Radio 2, I watch the pink-haired squawker from Fame Academy slaughter songs on BBC1's The Sound of Musicals, I know all the words to Annie. But this, this was torment.

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An updated version of Puccini's opera La Boheme, it manages to be about an hour longer. One of Rent's better-known songs, Seasons of Love, tells us that a year is 525,600 minutes, but believe me, this film seemed an awful lot longer than that.

I prayed for the popcorn-eating guy in the seat behind to flick pieces of his aerated awfulness at me to at least provide some proof I was still alive. It didn't happen and I remained trapped in some awful 1970s hell where rock operas survived.

Which is especially odd as the film is set in 1989-90, when a bunch of New Yorkers are dealing with life, love, AIDS and a tendency to burst into rubbish song. The story involves flatmates refusing to sell out the homeless in order to continue living rent free in a loft apartment the size of Alaska; a chap with Aids falling for a transvestite with Aids; a bisexual artist cum protest singer cum irritating bitch and her lawyer lover; a man who looks like Jon Bon Jovi and a woman with a very bad cold; and a would-be film-maker who asks an AA-style HIV survivors group if it's OK to film them. It is - it's that kind of movie.

The result is actually even less compelling than it sounds, as almost every minute is filled with some of the worst songs this side of Andrew Lloyd Webber's reject pile (I'm being kind and assuming there is such a thing). The songs are pompous, earnest, often determinedly unmelodic, banal - they're not very good at all. But they are long. Wagner died waiting for these songs to end. The two best numbers (ie least worst) are the aforementioned Seasons of Love and the rather jolly Tango: Maureen.

The cast aren't bad, with a number of them having appeared in the original show, including Law & Order's Green, Jesse L Martin, as an urban philosopher with Aids. He has a great voice, but the part demands he grin like a loon, and I kept expecting him to come out of his deep cover and bring on the late, great Jerry Orbach to make a few arrests for crimes against music.

Sin City's Rosario Dawson is terrific as Mimi - same name as her La Boheme counterpart - and at least you can look forward to her dying, as Mimi must, at film's end. Sadly, this is where the film gets original and she survives for another 74-verses of evil.

If you don't like musicals, stay away. If you really like musicals, stay further away.

Reviewed on: 09 Apr 2006
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Big-screen adaptation of the award-winning musical.
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Director: Chris Columbus

Writer: Jonathan Larsen (original musical); Stephen Chbosky (screenplay)

Starring: Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, Jesse L Martin, Adam Pascal, Tracie Thoms, Anthony Rapp, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Idina Menzel

Year: 2005

Runtime: 135 minutes

BBFC: 12A - Adult Supervision

Country: USA


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