Why Was The Rent Movie So Bad?

Chris Peterson

With last year's Annie movie getting skewered by the critics, it's always a good time to think about other movie adaptations of musicals that didn't go as well as the fan base was hoping for. One that sticks out in my mind in particular was the movie version of RENT. 

When I was young, my family had a small cabin in VT that we would spend long winter weekends at. I had just gotten my license, so I had the great joy of driving 3 hours to cabin by myself. To pass the time I would listen to cast recordings and RENT would always be one of the selected CD's. Eventually I started to wonder what a RENT movie would look like. Fast forward to 2015, 10 years since the movie was released, and I'm still wondering what a RENT movie would look like. Because what fans and audiences got in 2005 was not a movie version of the iconic musical. There was a lot wrong with the movie but here are just a couple reasons why the RENT movie just plain sucked.

It Got Stuck in Development Hell

You would think that after the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize, studios would be lining up to make this into a feature film? Not the case with RENT. It was still the mid- 1990's and the property was still too risque for most studios to touch. However towards the late 1990's, there were rumblings that Spike Lee was going to direct it, which would have been funny given his reference in the show. Then, when that fizzled, directors from Sam Mendes to Martin Scorsese to Baz Luhrmann were all rumored to be interested. After every studio passed on it, it was finally picked up by Revolution Studios. The Jonathan Larson, generation defining musical was now going to be made by the same studio that created such cinematic classics as White Chicks and Daddy Day Care. RENT in those hands, was doomed before it was even filmed.

Chris Columbus

Give RENT's edgy risque material, the film obviously needed a director who knew how to navigate through material like that. Spike Lee would have been an excellent choice but instead, the studio gave the job to Chris Columbus. Yes....Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire...and RENT. Columbus was the absolutely wrong person to take this one.  He hired a writer with hardly any professional experience and ignored that the show takes place in 1989. He chose to film mostly in L.A. and San Diego instead of NYC. He was worried that certain scenes or references would be too "heavy" for his cast. So he cut any reference to April's demise, various songs(Christmas Bells, Contact, all the voice mails) and made the disastrous decision to have many of the songs be spoken word instead.

But the biggest issue with Columbus' approach on the film was that it was felt like a censored, soulless, corporate sell out. Chris Columbus said he took on the project because he was such a huge "fan" of the original show, but a real fan would not have castrated Larson's material to this extent. If the original show was punk rock, Columbus created a bubble gum pop remix. If anything, I can take solace in the fact that this movie basically killed Columbus' career:

Pre-RENT: Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire and the first two Harry Potter movies.

Post-RENT:  I Love You Beth Cooper, Percy Jackson and Pixels...

Casting

I love the original cast. I love what they did for the show and what they're still doing for it. But as much as I love them, they shouldn't have been cast for the movie version. They were slightly too old for their roles in 1994 and way too old for them in 2005. By the time filming began Adam Pascal was 35, Jesse L Martin was 36, playing characters who were supposed to be in their early 20's. Using the original cast lacked creativity on the part of the producers and director to find a fresh new cast. Among the new cast members, only Tracie Thoms stood out as Joanne. Rosario Dawson, also too old for her character, was so badly auto tuned, it made me question why she was cast to begin with.

The Movie Was Just Bad

Beyond the poor casting and director choices, the movie just turned out to be really bad. Everything felt artificial. The characters felt more smug and shallow on screen then they did in 1994. Any dramatic arch or reasons to care about these characters vanished. The pacing is terrible, it looks way too pretty for people living in squalor. I want to have Mark and Roger's apartment, that should say something.

A RENT movie would have been a dream come true, if it had been released in the late 1990's when a lot of the issues were still relevant. But one could say that the reason why RENT is so difficult to pull off today is because in many ways it succeeded in its mission. HIV/AIDS is no long the epidemic it once was and Gay issues have progressed.

2005 was 10 years too late for a RENT movie.

10 Film Adaptations of Musicals That Are Worth Watching

Anthony J. Piccione

The movie musical. It’s been a topic that’s been revisited by the writers on this blog quite a few times before, including a few weeks ago, when I wrote an article entitled 10 Reasons Why Film Adaptations of Musicals Tend to Fail. In the comments section for that article, I got an interesting request for a future article: To do a list of film adaptations of musicals that I actual thought were good, rather than focusing on the negatives of such adaptations. I thought it was a good idea, hence why this week, I’ve decided to take the time to come up with such a list. For this list, I collected a bunch of films that are adapted from musical theatre, and even if many of them do not live up to the original stage version, are still worth watching for different reasons.

So without further adieu, here is my list of 10 Film Adaptations of Musicals That Are Worth Watching:

 10.    The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) – A bit cheesy, I know. But if you ask me, it’s still one of the better movie musicals to originate from a theatrical production out there, even if it belongs near the bottom of this list. 

9.    Hairspray (2007) – Not exactly one of my favorites. Some people love it a LOT more than I do. Nonetheless, it’s still a fun movie, based off of an even more fun musical. 

8.    Annie (1999) – Perhaps the best adaptation of this musical overall. Even if the 1982 version had better acting, this was able to stay the most true to the original musical while also remaining an entertaining film. 

7.    Chicago (2002) – Like the original musical, the film adaptation is also very musically entertaining, visually stunning…and all that jazz.

6.    Rent (2005) – This is still one of my favorite musicals of all time, even if it is a bit overproduced. If you ask me, the film version does a near perfect job of adapting it for the silver screen, which can’t be said of all other such adaptations. 

5.    The Sound of Music (1965) – Just as much of a classic as the original musical, if you ask me. I couldn’t possibly do a list like this without including it somewhere on here. 

4.    Les Miserables (2012) – I know this will be a controversial pick, and I agree it doesn’t quite live up to the original Broadway show. But on its own, I still say it is a film of high-quality. It didn’t get an Oscar nomination for nothing. 

3.    Into the Woods (2014) – While still fairly recent, I don’t think it’s too soon to say that this is one of the best film adaptations of a musical ever made, and I think we will all remember it as such for years to come. 

2.    West Side Story (1961) – Some people might say that this is the best adaptation of a musical of all time, and I agree that it is truly both a musical and cinematic masterpiece. However, there is still one more I can think of that has a special place in my heart. 

1.    Sweeney Todd (2007) – From casting to directing to visuals to soundtrack, nearly everything about this adaptation is perfect, and is as every bit of a dark treasure as the original musical. I have nothing but nice things to say about this adaptation, and it just so happens to be my personal favorite of all time. 

What do you think? Do you agree with this list? Are there any musicals that you think should be on this list that aren’t? Any on the list that you think shouldn’t be? Be sure to let us know in the comments!