Release date: Nov. 23
U.S. distrib: Columbia Pictures
Oscar alumnus: producer Robert De Niro (actor, “Raging Bull”; supporting actor, “The Godfather, Part II”)
Nearly 10 years after the Broadway premiere of “Rent,” Chris Columbus brings Jonathan Larson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning update of “La Boheme” to the screen. Obviously, the 2002 Oscar win for “Chicago” helped pave the way from Broadway to the cineplex; not that Columbus’ approach to the legit material is gamble-free.
Fans of the stage musical will be delighted with the movie’s thesps. But they pose a big risk: Columbus has loaded his tuner not with movie stars a la Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere and Catherine Zeta-Jones, but the low-wattage names of the show’s original cast. (The one exception is Rosario Dawson, who replaces Daphne Rubin-Vega in the femme lead, Mimi.) Taye Diggs, in a minor role, is the best known of the group.
His real-life wife, Idina Menzel, took the 2004 Tony for her Elphaba turn in “Wicked,” and looks to have the best shot among the “Rent” ensemble of nabbing an Oscar nom for her supporting role as lesbian performance artist Maureen. Menzel runs with lines like “There will always be girls in rubber flirting with me!” and two — count ’em, two — showstopping numbers.
“Rent” is a movie musical without apologies, and it is this gamble that will either pay off big time or sink the project with Oscar voters. Unlike the “Cabaret”/”Chicago” template, which makes the musical numbers less jarring to contempo sensibilities by placing them onstage or in a club, Columbus runs with the legit conceit and uses real city streets, real rooftops, real churches and real hospital rooms throughout the film. It’s an old-fashioned approach that looks downright audacious today.
Coming amid the releases of “Capote,” “The Dying Gaul,” “Transamerica” and “Brokeback Mountain,” “Rent” adds to the movies’ growing 2005 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered population: Two of the film’s three couples are same sex, and nobody onscreen seems much concerned by that fact.
Hollywood often comes down with a severe case of social consciousness this time of year, and “Rent’s” AIDS storyline could lend it support. In the last 10 years, nothing much has changed on that front, unfortunately, except the characters’ medical cocktails.