No Day But Today: Looking Back On The Film Adaptation of ‘Rent’

When Chris Columbus decided to direct the film adaptation of Jonathan Larson’s hit Broadway musical, Rent, fans (lovingly called “Rentheads”) immediately became skeptical. Chris Columbus was the guy who gave us Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – all perfect examples of innocuous family fare – and now he was planning to take on Rent, which was as far away from “family friendly” as you could possibly get.

We Rentheads were a little nervous. Should Rent lose even a little of its edge, it would be a travesty. Those fears would soon be put to rest.

I followed the making of the film on a daily basis, as did many others. The website for the project became more like an interactive blog, as Columbus and Co. kept fans in the know about the progress of the film. As time went on, we began to feel a bit more relaxed and confident.

Finally, when the film was released in November, we packed into the theatre – and for the most part, we were pleased with what we saw. I had a few quibbles at the time. There was the fact that some of the lyrics from Larson’s rock opera had been awkwardly changed into spoken bits of dialogue. Some of my favorite numbers had been dropped altogether. And then there was the casting. Sure, it was great that most of the original Broadway cast was present in the film, but they’re much older now – most of them were in their late thirties at the time of filming – and that was kind of distracting. On that end, suspension of disbelief was definitely required.

However, the film remained true to the spirit of the musical. If you’re reading this, you probably know the story forwards and backwards. Rent still resonates with those who have always been touched by it. Watching the characters of Mark, Roger, Tom, Maureen, Joanne, Mimi – and last but not least, everyone’s favorite drag queen, Angel – come to life on screen in a new way was worth the price of admission, and then some. Those of us who have lived vicariously through these bohemian characters on and off through our lives were now given a worthy time capsule, and over the years, Chris Columbus’ Rent has become one of my favorite stage-to-screen adaptations.

Rent was slapped with a PG-13 instead of the R rating that we always assumed it was going to receive, making it possible for people of all ages and walks of life to see it. Sure, the critical reaction was mixed, but most of the critics were unfamiliar with Larson’s work beforehand, so that had to be considered. This is a film for the fans, and while some of Columbus’ changes took some getting used to, much care was taken by the cast and crew in bringing Rent to the screen. All of that dedication ends up on the screen.

Incidentally, Rent is one of my most beloved holiday movies. Most of the film takes place around the holidays, bringing the familial bond between these characters front and center, as they come together and celebrate through trials and tribulations, learning to live in the moment and to love one another unconditionally. “No day but today”, indeed.

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