Musical 52

Watch 52 musicals, one every week, in 2015.

RENT (2005)

Hi, so normally I tell you a little about a movie musical I’ve never seen before and then I watch it and review it in neat sections covering the story, the acting, and the songs, then I tell you which lyric was the worst and send you on your way. Well, we’re not doing that today. Today I’m going to go on a stream-of-consciousness rant to figure out just exactly why I feel so awful, because fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck Rent.


Well, um, as long as you take precautions, that is.

Oh, sorry, was that a cheap AIDS joke? Well, this movie is begging for it. There’s no way around it, Trey Parker and Matt Stone did it first and did it best. I laughed my ass off at the “Everyone Has AIDS” scene in Team America: World Police years ago despite not knowing a thing about Rent, but now I realize how frighteningly accurate that parody was. All the character notes I took on this movie end in “HIV” or “AIDS,” to the point that I wanted to type “AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS AIDS” Shining-style until the end credits. But I can’t because Team America did that joke and it is scientifically the most obvious but also best joke anyone could ever make about fucking Rent.

And now here I am trying to make better Rent jokes? Fuck me.

Oh, shit, so what’s the plot? Well, a bunch of shithead artists (baaaaad artists, so bad, more on that later) don’t have enough money for rent in New York City. There ya go. Also, some of them have AIDS. AIDS can kill people, so you’re basically running out the clock to see which of these twenty annoying characters is going to die. (If you tell me that’s a spoiler, hi, have you met any movie with a disease in it?) So, I guess that brings me to the first item on my list of Elements of Rent That Make It the Most Irritating Movie Musical I’ve Ever Seen, which is…

Oh, am I doing subheadings? Guess so, whatever, I’ll probably change my mind later. Anyway, I’m certainly not opposed to films featuring a large group of people and the ways their lives intersect, but when each pairing gets a whole song, fuck that crap. There’s no room for these connections to breathe. With or without the singing, this movie feels like homework: this one was dating this one but now she’s doing this and he’s the landlord now but also—NOPE, that’s a chart, not a story. If I wanted to read the Wikipedia plot synopsis for Rent, I’d, well, read the Wikipedia plot synopsis for Rent.

Art, AIDS, rent, whine, repeat.

“But Bill, didn’t you love Fame?” none of you are saying. “That’s about a ton of characters and their interactions.” Yeah, because it’s barely a musical; it has eight original songs in it, tops, so there’s still enough movie left for, I dunno, dialogue and events and shit? Which rolls right into Subheading Two…

You’re damn right I’m going to complain that a musical has too much singing. Feast your eyes on the 28-song soundtrack for this flick. You know how they say jazz is about the notes you don’t play? Well, Rent thinks jazz is ONE LOUD NOTE ALL THE TIME FOREVER. I like my musicals with breaks for dialogue, and Rent seems like somebody is singing every fucking minute. There were moments I was actually looking forward to two characters having a conversation to better establish their relationship, but then oh shit, I hear a piano in the background.

Can’t anyone just talk any more???

Want to slap me on the wrist for loving Tommy, a musical with no dialogue? It gets a pass because it focuses on one central character and the singing was great throughout, which brings us to the Hate Train’s next stop…

It’s the kind of singing I absolutely hate. Every note must be belted, to prove that you are a talented vocalist, but it only results in draining emotion from the song. For me, musicals have to work extra hard to make all this spontaneous harmony and choreography feel natural, and one of the ways to do that is to see the themes of a number really affecting a character. Most of the tunes in Rent are angry or sad or bittersweet, but you don’t feel those feelings because everyone is trying to explode them out of their throats with enough force and perfect pitch to disintegrate Simon Cowell.

Idina 1

Yeah, we get it, Idina, you can sing.

Also, Rent can’t decide if it wants to be a traditional musical or a rock opera, and as a result, it ends up somewhere in the middle, sucking at both. It has some very pretty melodies like My Fair Lady, and it also has the angst and rage of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. But this American Idol “blast it for all you’re worth” singing style lacks the grace of Lady or the raw, unpolished punk of Hedwig. It makes the whole movie feel… inauthentic, which is frequently a problem when your musical is about…

“Film Douche.” “Music Douche.” These are the first character notes I took on Rent, and you might say they’re unfair snap judgments, but the movie also never took the time to prove me wrong. A big part of the plot is not being able to afford rent, but Film Douche Mark and Music Douche Roger mostly wander around bitching about how they just need time to make a documentary or compose that great new song. Hey, I feel for you guys, writer’s block sucks buttholes, but maybe get a job in the meantime?

Or make your films in Sweden.

By the way, Film Douche totally gets hired to shoot video for the news with little to no trouble, and of course he fucking hates it. I know another wannabe filmmaker that took a job in news to cover expenses, and his name is Me. Hey, Film Douche, why don’t you start a blog where you bitch about movies? Anyway, the character I should have related to the hardest left me cold. This is a big problem. Yeah, work sucks. I wish I lived in a world where the arts were better funded. But what the fuck does whining about it to yourself do? Maybe I’m sounding like a curmudgeon, but write your Congressperson. Rearrange your schedule and start with small projects. Make good projects, not half-assed documentaries about your uninteresting friends.

The worst kind of documentary is about yourself.

Speaking of good projects, all the artists in this movie either never get around to making their art or produce art that is objectively terrible.

Save for the stripper. Her work is genius.

There’s a segment in which Maureen does some of her performance art called “Over the Moon.” It is a horrible song. Play it during sex with someone you hate. She rants about a cow that lives in a computer and drinks Diet Coke or whatever, and the whole thing involves a gigantic clockpunk moon and ten TV screens and all kinds of lights and sounds and shit. You cannot tell me this scene wasn’t designed to make us laugh at what a fucking joke Maureen’s art is, but they keep cutting to the main characters enjoying it. Also, the whole expensive set could pay anybody’s rent. She doesn’t get to use the term “starving artist.” Wait, are the others mad at her because she can afford her shitty art? I’m sure the dialogue would tell me if—CRAP, ANOTHER SONG.

I keep tuning them out. Is that a pun? Fuck, I don’t care.

I’ve been camping out in this section for too long, but I will wrap it up by saying that artsy douches are difficult to portray as likable. Hair failed even harder than Rent because those hippies went out of their way to be assholes to everyone. Moulin Rouge! sort of works, but it still runs into the problem of theater being expensive as hell to produce, so maybe worry about food and lodging first? It takes careful direction to make us sympathetic toward struggling artists without making them look self-centered, and a bad director can leave us with…

A lot of my friends love the stage version of Rent. Several warned me that the movie was crap years before I embarked on my musical expedition. So what was lost on the way to the screen?

How could the director of Pixels make a bad film?

Well, I’m not qualified to discuss this as an adaptation. I have never seen it on the stage. Coincidentally, there’s a performance of it happening near my city as I write this; tonight is their last night and I know somebody in the production. I could rush right over and check it out and tell you which parts I still think suck, but would that really give me the credentials to judge it?

Also, is this scene in it? Will I have to see a friend’s butt? Weird.

Cinemanaut John joined me for part of Rent and posited an interesting theory; when a show gains enough popularity to make it to Broadway, it can lose some of its spark. Maybe the early performances had just the right amount of grit and pathos, but when it was shipped to the Great White Way, they polished it up and pushed spectacle over emotion. And when it came time to turn that shiny Rent into an even shinier movie, it was too damn sparkly to look at.

Rent Butt

Avert your eyes!

There’s one scene in particular that really highlights just how fake Rent feels, and I have no idea why it was included. At one point the gang encounters a homeless woman on the street, and she mocks them for being artists and how everybody in the neighborhood is an artist now. Then she asks for a dollar and nobody has one. Maybe this scene is supposed to be an embodiment of their fears, that one day they’ll end up like her, but all I saw was a bunch of clean well-dressed kids refusing to give a dirt-covered homeless woman a dollar. Which character would you feel bad for in that scene? Who are you rooting for?

Rent Homeless

Where’s her movie? No Rent Because I Sleep In A Dumpster, You Whiny Chucklefucks.

Am I being the cinematic equivalent of those fuckfaces that judge the shopping carts of people using food stamps? Maybe. But these people are fictional, and when you’re a director in control of your world where the rent is too damn high, don’t make your characters too damn clean and too damn mean to homeless people.

And too damn proud of their singing.

What, we’re still doing this section? Well, I wrote down too many terrible lyrics to pick just one and this article is already way too long, but I hated lines about having a nice ass, repeatedly shouting “a-wooooo,” covering someone’s dead body in kisses, everything in “Over the Moon,” meatless balls, mucho masturbation, and an undeserved comparison to The Twilight Zone. Let’s just wrap this up.

Rent… at least, the movie version of Rent… feels exploitative while simultaneously having no idea how to pull that off. It takes a serious subject like AIDS and ends up focusing more on how its actors are just really nailing those high notes. All of its bohemian fun is the fakest fake fun around and only serves to make its characters broad and uninteresting. I didn’t like the songs and also somebody writes “FIGHT AIDS” on the chalkboard menu at a restaurant and that is too obnoxious not to mention before I go.

“Waiter, I ordered the Fight AIDS 45 minutes ago!”

Dreamgirls (2006)