starring Rosario Dawson, Taye Diggs, Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Jesse L. Martin
screenplay by Steve Chbosky, based on the play by Jonathan Larson
directed by Chris Columbus
by Walter Chaw On the list of painful experiences, the modern Broadway musical ranks fairly high, so it's fair to wonder how an adaptation of Rent--by Chris Columbus, of all people--could have struck anyone as a bright idea. In all honesty, though, pretending not to understand the reasoning behind a project like this is disingenuous snobbery, because when something this terrible has proven to be that popularly galvanizing, it's only a matter of time, really, before Hollywood moneymen come calling with dollar signs in their eyes and memories of Chicago dancing in their heads. (I can only assume that that's also the reason the legendarily awful Phantom of the Opera got a greenlight with Joel Schumacher at the helm--and that Matthew Broderick and Nathan Lane's stupendously popular (and similarly awful--film and play both) The Producers is set to bow this Christmas.) But with Rent, in place of a name like Webber or Mel Brooks to drive its inexplicable success, you find a genuine middlebrow cause célèbre, loaded well beyond safe with Message carried on the backs of a thundering stable of Alphabet City freaks and caricatures of freaks, each of them wilting from a romantic wasting disease (AIDS, naturally, or 'disenchantment' in place of source La Boheme's 'consumption')--the same one, not-so-incidentally, that claimed creator Jonathan Larson a few tragic months before Rent's triumphant debut on the Great White Way.