First of all, the theatre was *packed.* By the time the movie started there wasn’t an empty seat to be found. Eric and I were among the oldest in the room. We joked that most of the folks around us weren’t born in 1989 when then movie was set. Some were wearing “Rent” t-shirts.
Overall, I liked the movie a lot. It respected the original show, yet it used the freedom of moving away from the stage well. I’ve listened to the soundtrack more times than I could count. I immediately knew when the script went away from the play, and the times that it happened weren’t jarring. Except for one instance, which I’ll describe in the extended entry… spoiler warning…don’t click through if you don’t want to know…
Often when a musical is made into a movie, there are additional songs or sub-plots thrown in. Not the case here. In fact, the movie *drops* songs. Most noticeable is the song “Goodbye Love” from the second act. If you’ve seen the show, you know this is the song that follows the big funeral scene and it’s where Roger leaves, Mimi goes into rehab and Roger and Mark have their big fight. Mark confronts Roger on the fact that he’s running away because he can’t deal with the fact that Mimi is sick. Without it, the transition of Roger coming home and Mark quitting his job seemed out of place. I would have been much happier had the movie not had the added scene of Joanne and Maureen’s engagement party and left “Goodbye Love” alone.
“Goodbye Love” would have also given Taye Diggs more to do. Benny was never a huge character, but his part is cut further in the movie. What a waste. The movie completely dropped the interaction between Benny and Collins, and barely hinted at the history of Benny and Mimi.
Without a doubt, to me, the best performance was by Jessie L. Martin as Collins. Martin has more experience off-stage than most of the other performers with the exception of Diggs who didn’t have enough screen time to show how good he could be. The strength of the movie over the stage show is that the actors could use their eyes to show emotion. On stage, all motion has to be big in a very small space. The screen version could spent 10 seconds just on Collin’s eyes and you knew exactly what he was thinking and feeling without him having to sing it. Everyone else did a great job, too. But I think Martin stood above them all. What an incredible voice he has, and he sounds better now than he does on the original Broadway cast recording I have.
As much as I enjoyed this version of *RENT*, I don’t know how much I would have liked it had I not been so familiar with the original stage version. On the stage, the ending doesn’t seem quite as forced as I think it came across on the screen.