This is a comparison analysis of the movie for Rent the musical vs the stage play. If you have not seen them, I highly recommend watching at least one of them to get some context going into this essay.
Mark is a screen wright trying to make it in New York. He lives with his roommate, Roger who is a musician recovering from his drug withdrawal all while grieving over his ex-girlfriend who committed suicide upon finding out they have AIDS. Mark has an ex-girlfriend, Maureen who recently dumped him for JoAnn, a lawyer. They are living in a building owned by their ex-roommate Benny who married rich and shows up to cause them problems because they haven't paid rent. (Although apparently, Benny said they could live there for free). Their other ex-roommate, Collins comes to visit, gets beat up, meets his lover, Angel. Roger meets a girl named Mimi and they eventually start dating.
This is all in the first ~5-10 minutes and from there, it's snapshots of their lives as they struggle to make it despite their lack of funds, good health, and whatever relationship problems come their way. In Act 2, Angel tragically dies from AIDS and the crew goes to his funeral. Benny and Mimi start dating. Maureen and JoAnn are on a break. Mark is working for a sleazy magazine called Buzzline. Mimi started using again after Roger and she broke up. Overwhelmed, Roger has plans to leave (and then returns). The gang (minus Mimi) reunites and begins to search for her. Maureen and JoAnn find her living on the streets seemingly on her last leg. They bring her into the apartment, Roger sings a song to her, and essentially they admit feelings for each other. She almost dies but then magically resurrects. If you are confused try this.
So the first song of this movie is "Seasons of Love" which is cool. It's the most iconic song of the musical. Even those who don't know Broadway know this song. JoAnn sings the riff which I think is a good choice. The only weird part of this number is that it's on a stage with spotlights (like in the stage version) vs the rest of the movie isn't on a stage or a theater-like this. It feels out of place but it's fine.
Next up is the title song, Rent. At first, there's dialogue spoken instead of sung. My issue with it is it doesn't have the parts with JoAnn, Maureen, and Mark favoring to do it later to set Mark up for the Tango Maureen. I will say the vocals for this song are solid and the burning eviction notices raining down from the sky as Benny stands at the foot of his buildings is amazing.
In One Song Glory, I like the montage of Roger's ex-girlfriend. It gives it more depth since Mark's documentary-style commentary isn't in this version. Roger has a great rock n roll style of voice and it is pretty good. After that is Light My Candle, aka Mimi making a move on Roger (at least in the movie). What seems like a flirty song feels awkward. These characters don't seem to have much chemistry. Also, I wasn't a fan of Mimi's voice. It's bright and a little breathy which makes her sound like a kid not "old for her age".
After that, it's the Tango Maureen, aka Mark acting as a relationship therapist to his ex-girlfriend's girlfriend. It's the first time in the movie we visually see Maureen when Mark has this tango fantasy dance sequence. Earlier Angel mentions life support is for people with AIDS vs in the show she says it's for people struggling/coping with life. When they actually go to life support, they changed the order of the song, doing the affirmation after the guy (not named in the movie) voices doubt.
Next is back to the Mimi/Roger subplot with "Out Tonight" and "Another Day". Out Tonight is weird. There's a lot of change of place from the club to go home to go to Roger's apartment. In Another Day, I really liked her outfit. Again there was lots of changing the location. I did like Collins, Angel, and Mark visibly joined in for Mimi's part. My only question is how they would know who she is.
Not going to lie, later during Maureen and JoAnn's engagement party, I thought it was their wedding. During "Take Me or Leave Me", I love JoAnn's outfit. But I love Maureen's mom's comment of "Maybe now you two can get back together" even more.
They cut out "Contact" and skip right to Angel's funeral. I cry every single time for "I'll Cover You Reprise". They changed the tempo in this version and to me, it doesn't sound as sad but like a gentle goodbye. Afterward, the crew has an argument but they cut out "Goodbye Love" which is one of the most powerful songs of the show.
Although the title song isn't as good as the movie nor as powerful as all the burning eviction notices, I do like JoAnn's phone call and the microtransactions. They make you feel like you are in the hustle and bustle of New York. When Collins and Angel meet for the first time, there hold so much more chemistry than in the movie. In the movie, it isn't mentioned April, Roger's girlfriend committed suicide.
Don't come for my head but "One Song Glory" is better vocally. It may be more Broadway-style and less rock n roll but you get more emotions without the aid of flashbacks. You watch Roger fall apart with the survivor's guilt written on his face. In "Light My Candle", Mimi feels less like a stalker. Like this is the start of their relationship. Mimi is way more flirtatious in this version. And may I just say, Renee's voice is amazing, rich, and beautiful. She brings a mature and sassy version of Mimi to the stage.
"Today 4 You" seems much more rhythmic and better than the movie. The choreography is always impressive to me. I mean, how does Angel do all these moves in heels? During "You'll See Boys", I like Angel and Collins' presence. Benny does seem to be running out of breath but my favorite is when they list all the things they feel Benny needs.
In the "Tango Maureen", I like the placement of JoAnn dropping Mark better here and Mark laughing at "Pookie" instead of saying it. For "Life Support", it was an awkward placement on stage but thank God it's recorded. Mark is so awkward. Gordon interrupting the affirmation makes more sense as does Roger visually dueting him vs us just hearing him like in the movie.
In "Out Tonight", there's no transition but that's ok. I love the choreography in this one too. To me, this scene was always her going to Roger's place after getting ready but again, it's flirtatious. In "Another Day", Mimi seems like she's pouting and wants him to change his mind. I especially like her riff on the word "love" and how much hurt and conflict you can see Roger in.
"Will I?" is presented as a mantra a lot of different people sing instead of those at life support in the movie. I like it's a musical round. In "Santa Fe", it seems like Collins is presenting an idea for a better life for the lot of them and I like it better. An aspect of the show I enjoy is how a lot of people play multiple roles. JoAnn's parents are also some of the homeless and life support people.
There are several songs that require perfect timing to be good. May I just say "We're Ok" is an impressive addition to the theory and sad it was cut from the movie? It's a great progression from we're ok to "we're ok". "And it's Beginning to Snow" has a lot of chaos but there were great moments. Like when Angel uses her leg to indicate disgust at the seller's choice of coat. I like the conversation with Mark, Roger, and Mimi. It's another song where the timing of it is crucial so everyone can be heard and sound good. All of the voicemails are great and give great insight into the family dynamics in a more subtle way than in the movie.
Heinous opinion but I like this version of "Over the Moon" better. (Sorry Idina Menzel). The vocals sounded better and still channels the weird. The headbanging isn't for nearly as long and her performance not going perfectly is what I'd expect. I did like the set for the movie with the TVs in the background better though.
In "La Vie Boheme A/B", Benny and Mimi's digs make their relationship more obvious, unlike the movie. A bane of theater is sitting scenes as you want actors to be seen, facing the audience. In part B, JoAnn's announcement is the cause for celebration and we get more documentary-worthy commentary. (Unlike the movie).
Benny is much more complex in this version. He doesn't just hate them. He seems to miss their friendship. But he also wants to do well at his new job. At the same time, he's pretentious and I'm pretty sure he paid Angel to kill his dog. In this version, Mimi seems to hide her drug usage more as Roger seems to think it's her cheating on him with Benny later.
One song I wish was in the movie that wasn't was "Goodbye Love". In the movie, the argument (transition to the song) doesn't seem as based on grief as this one is. Collins is holding Angel's drumsticks. Mark and Roger's argument is so important. Why did they cut it out of the movie?
If you ask me which I like better, of course, I'll say the stage production. I wouldn't say the movie is bad, in fact, there are many things about the movie I liked that I mentioned in my comparison between the two.