So I messed up and put Rent on. It’s Christmas Eve Eve (at least, while writing this it is) and Rent is Christmassy, and Netflix has nothing else. So.
Let’s see if I can articulate all of my thoughts about this silly musical/movie. First, the good stuff.
Diversity, sort of
Rent is pretty diverse. Three leads are white and the other four are POC. Three leads are straight (as far as we know – they could all be bi), and the other four are not. There’s a trans woman.
On the other hand, Mimi, the female romantic lead (K real quick there are three couples but Roger and Mimi are clearly the main couple, most unfortunately), is kind of a manic pixie dream girl. Some evidence for this claim:
- reminds Roger of his girlfriend who killed herself. Has AIDS, is a drug addict, smiles the same, etc.
- ^^ thus, she needs saving. Roger has to help her quit the heroin and it doesn’t work.
- of course, despite being a drug addict getting steadily sicker, she’s vibrant and full of life and gives Roger the will to live again, *sigh*
- almost dies but returns from the brink because Roger sings his stupid song at her
I think there’s some depth to her but because of how dull and blah Roger is, it’s hard to shake the need to label her as the manic pixie dream girl.
(on the other hand, the stage version of this relationship just kind of works. Watch.)
(as much as these two fictional people make me roll my eyes, this version of this song makes me smile) (it’s probably the actors)
More problematically, there’s Angel as the magical trans character. Angel is flawless (except that she’ll take money to commit dog murder, but that’s a later point and also the show seems to think that this is hilarious, and not in fact awful) and she “helped [them] [you know, the group of friends] believe in love.” She dies near the end from AIDS and everything falls apart with the group because she’s the love expert. When Mark hilariously quits his job it’s because he gets a message from Angel while he’s singing about consumerism in America. (-.-) Also, Angel is at the pearly gates and tells Mimi to go back when Mimi almost dies.
There isn’t much trans rep that doesn’t just use “trans” as a punchline, but the implication of how Angel is portrayed is that she’s just there, living and dying, in order to teach her cis friends some life lessons. Which is not cool.
OK something it actually does right:
The AIDS support group stuff
“No Day But Today” and “Will I Lose My Dignity” are probably the two most beautiful songs in the show. Also:
The music in general
Rent’s music is good. Just, sometimes we sing along and start laughing because it’s stupid.
I just claimed that Mimi is a manic pixie dream girl, at least where Roger is concerned, but Maureen is actually the character that most fits that label. She’s outgoing to the point of being incredibly obnoxious, everyone stares at her, she’s artistic and bold, and she dates the two most grounded characters in the show who are in agony because they’re pretty sure she doesn’t belong to them entirely and can’t ever belong to them because of her enormous personality.
What I like is that I don’t think the show lets her get away with it. In “Take Me or Leave Me” Maureen brags about how everyone wants her and Joanne should just learn to not be jealous, but Joanne tells her not to take her for granted because she’s also pretty great. Mark couldn’t have pulled those bold statements off but Joanne obviously can.
When Benny says that Maureen’s protest is more about her losing her performance space than it is about kicking homeless people out of their tent city, I’m pretty sure he’s right, and I’m pretty sure the show also knows this. This makes her the most three-dimensional character here, and in a different movie she’d definitely be just another inexplicable dream girl.
In spite of everything, it probably made me a better person
I was young and impressionable when I watched Rent for the first time, and though I now look back and shake my head at younger me, I also suspect that in spite of it’s major flaws, it made me a more tolerant person. And I don’t think I’m alone. You could call it “Baby’s first SJW movie musical” I guess.
The friendship between Mark and Joanne
It’s beautiful. And there isn’t enough of it.
The best moment in the show
12 seconds in up until 1:14; 1:23 if you want to include Angel fixing everything (which is also great).
I could probably go on about this moment, but let’s just leave it at: this is the show’s moment of clarity. Supposedly we’re here because the tent city is jeopardized, but really we’re here to watch a bunch of spoiled brats refuse to get jobs while they work on their art. Or at least, that’s how I see it. Because now it’s time to talk about the bad.
Mark sings in “La Vie Boheme:” “Not to mention, of course, hating dear old mom and dad.” And early in the show he jokes that when he’s freezing and hungry he sometimes wonders what he’s still doing in alphabet city and then his parents call, and he remembers.
For the record, his parents call to say “Merry Christmas” and to send their love; Mark’s mom hopes he likes his hotplate, and Mark’s dad is sorry to hear that Maureen broke up with him.
Sure, Mark’s dad says “Let her be a lesbian” of Maureen but there’s much worse he could have said. He doesn’t try to go all “toxic masculinity” on him or anything over the fact that he’s been dumped for a woman (although the show gets a couple of laughs out if it), and he doesn’t use any slurs.
In the stage version, Mark’s mom is a bit more grating, but there’s also an entire mini song in which the parents of all of our wayward young Bohemians are calling over and over again to try to reach their kids. Mimi is at this point dying on the street. So. Yeah.
I understand that parents are not universally good and supportive but there really isn’t evidence that these parents are the other sort, so I’m left feeling like these people are all just awful. It must be nice to have supportive parents who would help you if you need it (… it is, I have some, so I know) and isn’t it brave of you to choose to ignore them when they reach out. So edgy, so artistic.
To that point. Benny is a former friend of the group’s, and a former lover of Mimi’s, but he’s living the rich life now because he married an heiress who we never see. At one point Roger calls her “Muffy” and everyone chuckles. Hilarious.
All we know about her is that she’s married to Benny, her father wants to build stuff on a tent city, she’s rich, and she’s grieving her dog that Angel murdered. Those four things don’t automatically make me hate her enough to chuckle along with these silly, silly people, so once again I end up assuming that they’re being callous for no reason.
The Cat Scratch Club
This is only in the movie version, but there’s a scene of Mimi dancing at her S&M club and it’s kind of embarrassingly tame. None of this is at all my thing, but even I know that what they came up with for the club is boring. Partially, it’s because Columbus wanted the movie to be PG-13 so that kids could see it (which is smart), but partly too I think is that it’s a scene designed by some heterosexual guy. A boring one, too. Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns is still PG-13, dude, come on. The dancers aren’t even wearing fetish wear!
OK I’ll stop because this is definitely not my lane. It’s just that when they’re singing later about how they’re into “anything taboo” it doesn’t ring true, because the Cat Scratch Club will disappoint basically everyone everywhere.
The second half of the show for Roger and Mimi
Mimi dates Benny again? (He’s still married, of course, so now we know a fifth thing about Muffy: she’s being cheated on. God I hate her so much.) This is because Roger is jealous that she dated him before and he doesn’t trust her not to cheat on him. K.
Then he leaves, Mimi almost dies, but she survives because of song, yay. In the movie version it’s fine because the beginning part of their relationship was so boring as well, but in the stage version they filmed it’s a shame because those two actually have chemistry, and even that doesn’t make me care about them in the show’s more contrived moments later on.
Mimi barges in on Roger (who is moping alone in the dark, of course), thrusts some heroin in his face and kisses him. Then he yell-sings at her to leave her alone. Partly it’s because he has AIDS and doesn’t want to tell her/try at life anymore, and this is all fine. But the show seems to think he’s in the wrong.
Roger can say no. He can say no to the girl (and it doesn’t matter that he likes her, he’s not obligated to have sex with her whenever she climbs through the window) and he can definitely say no to the drugs. He’s a recovering addict. He pretty much told Mimi that when they met.
If he oversteps, and is a bit angrier than he needs to be, fine, as far as I’m concerned. But the show is under the impression that he’s way over the line. I know this because when they see each other again he apologizes to her, and she does not apologize for breaking and entering and for throwing drugs in his face and for trying to coerce him into sex. Also, Mimi’s argument against Roger’s “this would be different in a different context” (which is a FAIR THING FOR HIM TO FEEL) is the life affirmation from the AIDS support group. “There’s only us, there’s only this, forget regret or life is yours to miss. No other road, no other way, no day but today.”
Now I don’t know enough about support groups to have an educated opinion on whether it’s better for Roger to be a part of the support group and to accept its life affirmation as his dogma than it is for him to try to deal with it on his own, but I do think Mimi is… incorrect… to suggest that doing heroin and the sex immediately is the only way to live. The show sort of disagrees. I don’t think it’s pushing the drugs on Roger but it is pushing Mimi on him. That may be the fundamental flaw of their relationship: she’s just here to make Roger care about something so that he can write songs again. It’s a shame, as I said.
It’s hard out there. But this show has a weird outlook on income and job-doing that I don’t think anyone politically to the left could possibly agree with. At all.
Five of our leads have/get/had jobs. Joanne is the steadiest of all, being a practicing lawyer. She isn’t mocked for this, which is nice, and kind of surprising.
Collins was a philosophy professor at MIT but they expelled him for his SJW writings about AIDS awareness. Then he gets money by rewiring a bank machine. K.
Mimi is a dancer at an S&M club. She gets a decent amount of flack for this, which is stupid.
Angel takes a lot of money from a wealthy woman to murder Muffy’s dog because it barks too much. This happens off screen, which I assume is the only reason people laugh at it.
Mark gets a job at a tabloid news thing and quits to make a movie that is nothing because Angel told him to from beyond the grave. And apparently he couldn’t make his movie in his spare time.
Also they always go to their favourite cafe, don’t order anything, or if they do order things, they don’t pay. And it’s funny how much they hassle the actual working people at this cafe. Also it’s funnier because on the one night that they go and scream about how great the Bohemian life is, they’re paying with the dog murder money. Ha. Ha.
The movie’s thesis seems to be that earning a living is bad. Mimi is aimless, after all, and uses her earnings to buy drugs. Mark’s job somehow incapacitates him from doing anything during the other 16 hours in his day. We’re cool robbing banks and killing dogs, though, and what Joanne does is fine (probably because a lawyer is a “real job” and she’s being paid well).
I actually think that if our leads had minimum wage jobs the whole show would be a lot better. Get rid of the parent-hate and add in hating bosses, customers, or the mundaneness of the retail industry. There. It’s instantly at least 10% a better show now.