Rent (12A)

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The Independent Culture

Jonathan Larson's rock opera won awards galore, up to and including the Pulitzer Prize, when it shimmied onto Broadway a decade ago. But when you see the film version, which finally reaches our screens a year after it was parodied in Team America: World Police, it's hard to understand why it wasn't laughed off the stage on opening night. I mean, how seriously are we supposed to take a show in which someone bursts into song while he's lying in an alleyway, having just been mugged? Apparently, we're supposed to take it very seriously indeed.

Updating Puccini's La Bohème to the end of the 1980s, Rent revolves around an impoverished gang of wannabe musicians, dancers and film-makers in New York's East Village. There's almost no plot or characterisation, though, so it seems we should view them as intrinsically noble and heroic because some of them are gay and some of them have HIV. But you've never laid eyes on such a fit and healthy, well-dressed parade of middle-class spongers in your life.

The delight you might naturally take from seeing Rosario Dawson in the role of an Amazonian stripper is cancelled out by your utter disbelief that she could be a smack addict dying of Aids, so when the chums vilify their landlord as a "yuppie scum" because he is slightly tetchy about their refusal to pay rent for a year on a Manhattan apartment the size of a basketball court, you might have more sympathy for him than for them.

Is it really only 10 years since this feast of cheese was regarded as radical? Any smudge of youthful danger that Rent might once have had has been polished off by its director, Chris Columbus - the avant-garde auteur behind Home Alone and the first two Harry Potter films. And although there are two or three catchy songs, they don't sound like the outpourings of desperate artists who want to break down barriers with their creativity; they sound like the kids from Fame.

n.barber@independent.co.uk

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