Broadway musical doesn’t translate to the big screen
Broadway musicals are a lot like The Grateful Dead … “You had to be there, maaaan.” Seemingly existing only to troll tourist bucks out of the pockets of Bible Belt visitors to the Big Apple, the nature of the beast is long on spectacle, short on substance, easily digested.
The essence of appreciation is of having experienced the production in the ideal situation, the cavernous venue surrounded by hundreds of other appreciative tourists staring agape at the jazz hands and flashing fishnet as dancers careen about the gargantuan sets while pyrotechnics explode. Removed and isolated without the context, all that is left is shorthand narrative that serves roughly as a linking device to the next treacle-rich ballad. Rent is no exception, a loud and visually annoying examination of the New Bohemians circa the ground zero of the AIDS epidemic in late-'80s New York, Broadway navel-gazing about how it sucks to be broke and doomed and no one appreciates your art, and railing against the machine. One has to almost admire a crassly commercial Broadway vehicle about characters fighting the good fight about encroachment of crass commercialism.
It doesn’t help that the characters are thoroughly unlikable. While they’re supposed to be free-spirited aesthetes, they, in general, come across as free-loading poseurs—moaning about how cold they are because the heat has been cut off, whining about being evicted because they haven’t paid the rent in more than a year and sobbing about their hunger as bottles of Bombay Sapphire litter the loft. Ever hear of Barton’s Gin, jackasses? Or for that matter, busing tables while pursuing your craft? These are the kind of self-important delusionals that give NEA grants a bad name.
Of course, none of this would matter if the songs were any good, or at least sufficiently memorable. Each show needs at least one earworm to serve as a tent pole. Unfortunately, all that is offered here is a menu of interchangeable mediocrity, differentiated only by tempo. Of course, like I said it’s all about context. Mileage May Vary.