Rent (2005) Movie Review: Modernizing “La Bohème”

By: Alex Phuong (A Toast) –

525,600 minutes… 525,000 moments so dear… 525,600 minutes… how do you measure, measure a year?

And so begins one of the most audacious musicals within contemporary cinema. Rent might not have received a lot of awards after its original release in 2005, but it is still a very special and unique film in its own right. It even features Idina Menzel in a one of her first film roles around the same time that she received acclaim for playing Elphaba in Wicked. In fact, Menzel was part of the original cast of Rent, and was fortunate enough to reprise her role in this film adaptation. And yes, people, Idina Menzel has done numerous projects before singing “Let It Go” in Frozen (2013)! Besides Menzel’s contributions, though, this film version of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play is a prime example of a modern musical simply because it addresses issues that define society today (both in 2005 and as of 2018).

A Toast

This film is a great example of how numerous creative talents had to join together in order to create a compelling motion picture. Stephen Chbosky wrote the screenplay, which features a lot of controversial issues that are somewhat similar to his best-selling novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower and its subsequent film adaptation in 2012 (which he also wrote, adapted, and directed). Chris Columbus might be more well-known for his contributions to the Harry Potter franchise, but he serves as a brilliant director for being able to masterfully adapt this contemporary Broadway musical for the silver screen. Even Robert De Niro served as one of the producers of this film, which reveals the amount of talent both in front of and behind the camera while this film was still in production. This film really does feature an ensemble team!

Not only does this film feature some of the biggest names in Hollywood, but it is also one of the most daring musicals ever produced (both for the Broadway stage and for the silver screen). Its open depiction of controversial topics, such as AIDS, sexuality, and drug addiction can make this film a bit difficult to watch. However, such content is actually justifiable since it is a modernization of the famous opera La Bohème by Giacomo Puccini. This film is so bold that it even features most of the original Broadway cast instead of Hollywood A-listers. It is also safe to say that Rent actually bolstered many of the careers of many of the original cast members, especially Idina Menzel. Rent might not be suitable for everyone, but it is still a very frank and honest musical that is not afraid to push the boundaries of what could (or should) be shown on screen.


Rent is definitely an underrated modern musical just because of its lack of awards buzz at the Golden Globes and at the Academy Awards during its original release in 2005. Nevertheless, it is still a powerful film that continues to gain popularity even in 2018. In fact, several songs from this musical (and film) were covered on the popular TV show Glee (which coincidentally features Idina Menzel as Rachel Berry’s mother Shelby).

An even weirder coincidence was that Idina Menzel was actually married to her Rent co-star Taye Diggs until their divorce in 2014, and then recently married another Rent co-star, Aaron Lohr, in 2017. Some people might argue that films like Chicago (2002), Mamma Mia! (2008), and La La Land (2016) brought back the musical, but Rent is still a very special and compelling film in spite of its harsh depictions of modern social issues. Therefore, please feel free to possibly “rent” this DVD (pun intended), and be prepare for one of the most provocative musicals ever produced.

Rent (2005) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: for every musical number

Take a Drink: every time the film deals with controversial subject matter

And cheers: as this film celebrates hope, friendship, and personal triumphs while reminding audiences that there really is “no day but today”

About Alex Phuong

Alex Andy Phuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in English from California State University-Los Angeles in 2015. His love affair with cinema began after discovering Turner Classic Movies in the summer of 2004. His favorite film director is Woody Allen, and his favorite movie star is Kate Winslet.

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