Saturday, February 25, 2006

Rent-y Ramblings

All righty, is everyone all comfy-cozy and armed with their beverage of choice and ready to talk "Rent"? Good! First of all, I've only seen the play once, but have seen the movie twice now, once in the theater and once at home on DVD. I love the stage version and was a bit apprehensive that they would mess it up in the movie, but it turned out I really love the film version too, differences and all. There's only one real difference I have a quarrel with. But that's getting ahead of myself. We'll get back to that in a few minutes. At first I wasn't sure what I thought of turning the story from something that's told almost entirely in song, with only a few scattered lines of spoken dialogue, to more of a "typical" musical where there's a mix of speaking and song. I sort of missed some of the Voice Mail and Tune Up segments. But I found that as I slipped into the story unfolding on screen that I forgot to miss them. And a few days ago, when I saw the film for the second time I really didn't miss them at all. I had thought maybe changing so many of the songs to spoken dialogue had to do with conforming to a more standard movie musical format, but according to the DVD interviews with the filmmakers it was more of an artistic decision, which I found interesting. They said they were going with the idea that less is more and that by having a lot of the dialogue spoken normally they hoped that when the characters DID sing it would be clear to the audience that they were dealing with a major plot point. It would be like a sign saying "Hey! Listen up because this is important!". For Rentheads I feel sure that isn't necessary, but if the movie is trying to capture a whole new generation of fans, I suspect that may have been a good decision. As I mentioned back when I first saw the movie (and I'm too lazy to go back and link to that post right now), I thought there were a couple of sequences that were noticeably improved in the film version, compared to the stage version. The "Tango: Maureen" (which I've always loved!) starts out the same way in both, but then in the movie it segues into a lush fantasy/dream sequence which I thought was fabulous. That dream sequence is the first place we set eyes on Maureen in the movie and we see her as Mark and Joanne see her - dark, sexy, and carelessly irresistible...larger than life! I think it's a perfect introduction to the Maureen we get to know later in the story. The other sequence I think was improved in the film version was Roger's solo of "One Song Glory". On stage it stands alone and, while I like the song, I felt like it slowed things down a bit - didn't really advance the plot that much. Instead we found out a lot of Roger's background through what I'd call "exposition songs" by Mark. In the movie version, while Roger is singing about feeling like he's wasted his life and how he wants to do just one important thing before he dies, we see the reasons for those feelings unfolding on screen. We see his glory days as a rock musician, we see him meeting April, falling in love with her, shooting up with her, getting the news with her that they've both contracted HIV. It really SHOWS why he feels isolated and depressed, instead of just talking about it. The biggest thing I missed the first time I saw the movie was the "Halloween/Goodbye, Love" song sequence. That's the place in the play where, after Angel's funeral, the various friends and estranged lovers are singing about the changes that have happened over the past months and what they've lost, and it's where Mimi confronts Roger about his plans to leave town, which he then does, as she watches him drive away and sings "Goodbye, Love". In the movie version a small (VERY small) portion of that song sequence is turned into a spoken argument in the cemetery but the rest of it is just gone - cut from the story. Now we come to the thing about the movie that I still have a problem with even after hearing the explanation on the DVD interviews. Chris Columbus DID film that whole sequence, partly as spoken dialogue and partly in song. In the deleted scenes feature you can see hear Mark sing "Halloween" and Mark, Roger, and Mimi sing "Goodbye, Love". Columbus says that they tried doing those scenes with mostly dialogue, but didn't feel it played well that way. So they tried it again with mostly song and they all really liked the sequence that way, but ultimately decided to cut it because they felt like it sent the audience into emotional overload and burnt them out before the finale. First of all, having seen the stage performance, I'm not sure I buy that. I'm not sure they're giving movie audiences enough credit. But even if they're right, I wish they'd found some way to tone down the emotional impact and include some portion of the sequence, even if it was the dialogue version, because that's the one place in the movie where I think what they changed truly changed the feel of the original story. By leaving out that whole sequence, I think it makes both Benny and Roger look much more shallow in the movie than in the play. They're both flawed (aren't we all!), but that's the sequence where, in the play, we see Benny pay for Angel's funeral and offer to pay for Mimi to go to rehab. We see that he still cares about his friends in his own way, even if he has chosen a completely different life now. In the movie, he just comes across as a money-grubber who is paying way more attention to a 19-year old exotic dancer than a married man should. He becomes quite unlikeable instead of merely flawed and human. What bothered me even more though was what leaving out the sequence does to the viewer's perception of Roger's character. If someone was exposed to the story for the first time only through the movie, it makes it look like Roger's reason for leaving town is almost entirely sexual jealousy over the relationship between Mimi and Benny. But if you watch the deleted scenes, then the Roger of the stage snaps back into focus and we see that, yes, he's jealous, but that's only the smallest part of his problem. His real problem is that he has come to care for Mimi, despite trying hard to push her away...despite his fear of being close to anyone at all; and now he's seeing her waste away before his eyes from disease and addiction. He comes to realize that he simply can't stand the thought of watching her die, so he chooses to leave town. It may not be the bravest thing in the world, but it's understandable, even to Mimi. In the deleted sequence she sings to him "you don't want baggage without a lifetime guarantee; you don't want to watch me die". By deleting that sequence, I feel like Columbus makes Roger come across as a shallow jerk and makes Mimi look bewildered and helpless, when it SHOULD come across more as two people who love each other and know it - even admit it - but can't find a way to live with each other's problems. I'd hoped the explanation for not including the scene would help me make peace with it, but um...not so much. I still love the movie, I really do. I'm glad I bought the DVD and I have no doubt I'll watch it many times in the coming years. But I'm also going to watch the deleted "Goodbye, Love" sequence when I do because I'm afraid I still feel like they left out something important.

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