Christmas is a time of discovery for a lot of us. I feel like I learn something every year. Sometimes that knowledge is about myself, sometimes it's about others. Lessons we learn during the holidays can be some of the most important ones we learn, for example last night I learned that I've largely ignored some of my best friends these past few months in the interest of my busy career and spending as many of my free moments with my boyfriend. I saw the two of them last night and noticed that one of them was clearly exhausted (out of character) and the other had lost a significant amount of weight since I had last seen either of them. I feel as though these are things I should have noticed more recently than the holidays, only I didn't cause I've been so tied up in my own affairs. My friends are important to me and I learned that I need to create more space with them I my life. Friendship is the theme of today's post...indeed it is the spontaneous growth of friendship at Christmas that forms the whole story. As it turned out, everything is Rent.
On Christmas Eve, 1989, aspiring filmmaker Mark Cohen, and his roommate, Roger Davis, learn that the rent previously waived by their former friend and landlord, Benjamin “Benny” Coffin III, is due. At the same time, their former roommate Tom Collins shows up and gets mugged in an alleyway. Meanwhile, Mark and Roger meet with Benny, who tells them he plans to evict the homeless from the nearby lot and build a cyber studio in its place. He offers them free rent if they can get Maureen, Mark's ex-girlfriend, to cancel her protest against his plans, but they refuse. A street drummer and drag queen, Angel, finds Collins in the alleyway and helps him up. They bond once they find out they both have AIDS. Later that night, Roger, who is HIV-positive and an ex- druggie, tries to compose his one last great song. He's then visited by his downstairs neighbour, Mimi, an exotic dancer and heroin addict, who flirts with him. Soon after the two of them strike up a relationship and discover that they too share the disease of AIDS. The group forms a bond that endures through a year of fights, break ups, life changes, and even death. By next Christmas, will they still be together?
Rent is one of those stage musicals that connected with a wide range of people, largely the youth of the time, and so a film of it was always going to be tricky. It has gone on to be one of the more reviled film musical adaptations of all time, for largely cosmetic reasons. There are those who say that they don't care for Chris Columbus as a director, but that really doesn't say anything about a finished film so much as it reveals a personal bias against a film. It was also mentioned that the cast ( many of whom were in the original stage production) was too old to portray belivable bohemians by this point...which is ludicrous given that one of them keeps making comments on how they need to grow out of this phase and so the age makes that make more sense....why should age make bohemians more credible in fiction? If they're ridiculous at 30 they're also ridiculous at 20. Finally, they write that the important themes have been drained away by turning the film from a sung-through show into a more traditional talk and then sing musical. While I can't comment on people's perceptions, I don't see how the overreaching themes of the show have been drained. The story, based on La Boheme, is largely about friendship through adversity, love, loss, and resilience. If you can't see these in the film, you're not paying attention. It is a beautiful (if a little cloying both on stage and film) story that helps put life and love in perspective.