The year was 2005.
The movie was an adaptation of the popular Broadway musical Rent. If you’re not familiar, remember that song “Seasons of Love”? The one that every girl in your high school show choir would just not stop singing? The bewildering modern update of Puccini’s opera La Bohème, only minus the social commentary and any cohesive point whatsoever? There was a song where Idina Menzel mooed? It was basically Reality Bites the musical?
Yeah. That thing.
If only a testament to people’s desperation for any kind of LBGTQ representation in the media whatsoever, Rent had a massive following for its Broadway premiere in the early nineties and its movie a decade later. Maybe you’ve blocked it out, maybe you remember it fondly, maybe your Rent days are your own shameful past. It’s okay – I myself was once a Phantom of the Opera-obsessed twelve year old. We all come from somewhere.
But it’s 2016 now. Time to parse through all the leather pants, crappy home movies, and unsettling depictions of AIDS and heroin addiction. Time to admit to ourselves that killing a dog for money isn’t funny. That resenting your parents for supporting you doesn’t make you cool. And that you can’t call yourself an “artist” and decide that means you shouldn’t have to pay for housing.
1. Why shouldn’t they have to pay rent?!
In the opening song our “heroes” sing about how unfair it is that special snowflakes like themselves should have to pay rent. When their friend Benny offers to waive their rent fees if they stop a protest, they ridicule him for having “sold out.” Seriously?!
The first rules of New York artistry is be nice to your rich friends. It’s not like they were doing anything meaningful to stop gentrification, anyway, unless ruminating in a coffee shop about your screenplay causes major social change.
2. Maureen is an abusive partner.
5giphy.comSo in the opera, the Maureen character (named Musetta) toys with various rich men to support herself, while maintaining an off-again, on-again relationship with Marcello (Mark in Rent). In Rent, the old rich man she uses and ditches is kept as Maureen’s partner Joanne.
Just like in the opera, Maureen openly flirts with other people. In the opera, the old man is soon disposed of, but in the musical Maureen gaslights Joanne into being OK with her abusive behavior. In the opera Musetta’s behavior carries significance (she is shallow and cruel but has the means to buy medicine for Mimi as the result of her affairs), while in Rent Maureen is framed as cool and sexy, while Joanne needs to loosen up. Wow.
3. It doesn’t take the AIDS crisis seriously.
Almost every character in Rent has AIDS or is HIV positive, and some of them even die from it. Yet instead of saying anything insightful about the AIDS crisis and how people reacted to it in the 1980’s, their suffering is used as dramatic fodder.
Which is even worse, given that’s what the entire musical is meant to be about.
4. Mark is a terrible artist, hands down.
Mark is the poster boy for privileged white hipsters who think living in impoverished neighborhoods makes their work more “authentic.” Mark makes crappy home movies about the homeless people in his neighborhood while blowing off his loving parents and quitting a great job.
If he were a real person today, he’d probably have a waxed mustache and would begin ever sentence with, “Well, actually…”
5. Unlike the opera, it has no point.
In La Bohème, characters’ bad behavior is not romanticized, they face consequences for their actions, and the choice between staying a bohemian and dying of tuberculosis or finding a wealthy patron and living without love is taken seriously.
At the end of Rent, however, none of the characters have changed. They still romp around with their handheld cameras and whine about the squares and the sellouts. Some characters die, but their death has no significance other than the chance for a sad song.
If there really is “No Day But Today,” as the characters are so fond of singing, don’t waste it on this movie.