Rent — The worst people in the world

28 Jan

When I did stand-up comedy, one of the jokes I had that I really liked (the audience was marginally less receptive) went something like this:

“I want to have a TV commercial where I wonder if people have had the IRS hounding them for back taxes, and have people give testimonials about the IRS hounding them for back taxes, and I dress up like a lawyer and say ‘If the IRS has hounded you for back taxes … pay your damn taxes, dipwad!’”

Those ads love to make the people seem sympathetic, when most of the time, it’s just some person who didn’t want to pay the taxes they owe. Making a bad guy sympathetic is in fact one of our most tried-and-true literary techniques, from MacBeth to Citizen Kane to Breaking Bad.

And also Rent.

Listen, I love Rent. I listen to the soundtrack more times than I care to count, and picture myself playing the role of Tom or Roger all the time, despite the fact that I can neither sing nor dance nor act. It’s wonderful.

It’s also a story about the worst people in the entire world.

Let’s start with the entire premise: Rent. You know what? I want to make a career out of being creative and being an artist and all that too. But you don’t get to live for free because you’re an ar-teest. Pay your damn rent. I don’t need to feel bad for you for this. Pay your rent. If your films and songs aren’t taking care of it, well, that’s a shame. But too dang bad.

So let’s look at the definitive ranking of the awfulness of the Rent main characters, least-worst to worst-worst. Because let’s face it, they’re all the worst. And you know how I know they’re the worst? When they go to the Life Café after the protest, the manager practically begs them to not rearrange the tables and then they do. Like, if there’s one class of people you think these Bohemian lifers could sympathize with, it’d be restaurant folks, and they’re even assholes to them.

(Everything here refers to the movie version of Rent, because I’m a poor man living in central Kentucky and as much as I’d want to see every Broadway play, life says no.)

Least-worst: Collins

rent 1

Professor with an anarchist bent. Has AIDS.

  • There’s no indication he knows Angel before they meet in the movie. At the time, he’s broken, bleeding everywhere. Maybe, maybe, if you have AIDS and are bleeding all over the place, give the stranger who comes upon you a bit of a heads up?
  • I’m biased, because Collins is my favorite character in the movie and Santa Fe is the best song in the movie and Jesse L. Martin is for my money the best singer. But even then, he is the clear No. 1 on this list until the last few minutes in the movie when, in what is little more than a throwaway line, he reveals that he fucking reprogrammed an ATM to give them free money? Okay, so first, you’re just a criminal and need to go to jail, and second, if you did that at the start of the story instead of the end, there would be no story! “Hey, Roger, how do we pay rent?” “Well, Mark, there’s this ATM that Collins set up for us.” It’s the biggest deus ex machina I’ve ever seen, and it’s a huge, huge crime.
  • But still, he sings so good.

Seventh-worst: Joanne

rent 2

Lawyer, Ivy-educated, Maureen’s love interest, the one of the main characters who never really seems concerned with a “Bohemian” lifestyle.

  • Maureen cheats on Mark with Joanne, which presumably Joanne knew about, which (a) is pretty jerky, and (b) means you get slightly less freedom to complain when that person then cheats on you.
  • She is so concerned with being able to trust Maureen, which appears to be well-founded. But the correct response to that issue is not “Okay, let’s get married!”
  • Hey, mom and dad, sorry for wasting all your money on a commitment ceremony to a relationship that lasted another … hour?

Sixth-worst: Mimi

rent 3

Dancer, addict, Benny’s ex and Roger’s love interest. She has HIV and lives downstairs from Roger and Mark.

  • “You look familiar.” “Like your dead girlfriend?” Okay, I know you’re attracted to this dude, but Jesus Christ, have none of these people ever heard of tact?
  • Okay, I get that addiction is a bitch, so I don’t discount her for not being able to beat it. That said, she promises Roger she’d quit, doesn’t quit, and then gets all huffy when he can’t deal with her not quitting. Like, surely you can see where his issues might be?

Fifth-worst: Benny

rent 4

Former friend of the group, marries a rich girl and comes up in the world.

  • Okay, bonus points for figuring out a way to make money, negative points for then acting like he’s better than the others – except for the fact that he’s clearly better than the others. Just don’t be so haughty, dude.
  • “You want to produce films and write songs? You need somewhere to do it!” is treated like some big sellout point worthy of derision, but it’s the smartest single piece of dialogue in the entire movie.
  • On the other hand, when he moved out, he promised Mark and Roger they wouldn’t have to pay rent. He said that. Stick to your word, jerk.
  • You find out that your friend is dumped, and then cackle when he gets dumped for a woman? That’s homophobic and
  • “Hey bum, get your ass off the Range Rover.” Fine, you don’t want someone to sit on your car. But you have to specifically say “bum”?
  • The Bohemians drop trash on his Range Rover, and he removes it, but instead of putting it in a nearby trash can, he just tosses it on the ground.
  • He’s married, which is his only access to all the money he has now, yet he still cheats on his wife with Mimi, or at least clearly wants

Fourth-worst: Angel

rent 5

Angel is a drag queen and street musician. Both gender pronouns are used. Sunniest damn personality in the world.

  • There’s a lot of pro/con here. Angel does a lot of good things: Someone donates only a quarter into her bucket and she still brightly says “Merry Christmas!” She takes care of Collins after his assault sight unseen. She shares her $1,000 payday with Collins’ friends, who are strangers to her, without hesitation. She’s pretty cool.
  • On the other hand, she’s a goddamn dog hit man. She earned the thousand dollars murdering an Akita. Like, that alone should bump you way down. Without it, she’s probably be least-worst, but screw that, you dog murderer.
  • The Santa Fe song is amazing, and I love almost everything in it, but she randomly grabs some dude’s hat off his head, and that’s enough to get you a serious demerit. You don’t snatch hats.
  • The apartment building is locked, but she drunkenly and without a second to think about the consequences just breaks it.

Third-worst: Roger

rent 6

Musician, wants to write his one song that he will be remembered for. Mimi shows an inexplicable attraction to him.

  • Collins and Angel randomly mention Santa Fe in a one-off once, so he randomly decides to move there.
  • He moves to Santa Fe after Halloween, and decides the entire venture is a failure and moves back … before Christmas. Dude, no wonder you haven’t made it anywhere in life.
  • He even sings to Mark about how this is “some life that we’ve chosen.” And if you’ve chosen it, then you don’t get to whine so damn much.
  • If they care so damn much about all this artistic material that it is more valuable to them than paying rent, they can’t also burn all their songs and scripts to keep warm. And then joke about it! “The music ignites the night with passionate fire! The narration crackles and pops with incendiary wit!” Like, screw you two, you’re hypocrites.
  • Collins, supposedly one of their best friends, shows up, gets the key, then disappears for a whole night, and Roger doesn’t appear to even question it. At least Mark randomly asked “Where is he?”

Second-worst: Maureen

rent 7

A “performance artist” whose entire resume that we are aware of is a generic “protest.” She dated Mark, dates Joanne, appears to know everybody.

  • We know she cheated on Mark, apparently with Joanne. We get the impression she cheated on Joanne at least once.
  • She begs Mark to come help fix the tech for the protest, then doesn’t show up, leaving her ex to save the day alongside the woman she cheated on him with.
  • Okay, so Maureen is flirty. This in itself isn’t a crime. But when Joanne’s one big, key issue is that she wants you to commit to only her, you don’t get to openly flirt with someone else at your commitment ceremony. Like, take a fucking minute.
  • That was the dumbest, most gibberish protest ever, making no points and convincing no people of any things. She should thank the lord that a riot broke out at the end, because otherwise any news coverage of the protest would have been “look at this dumb crazy lady talking about being milked.” I skip the protest 100% of the times it plays on the soundtrack.
  • Honorable mention goes to her parents, who use her commitment ceremony to Joanne to try to convince Mark to get back together with her.

Worst-worst: Mark

rent 8

Mark, as the character who gets the first big quasi-solo number, the first character we see outside of the opening stage shot, the documentary that closes the movie, is the de facto lead here. He wants to be a filmmaker, dated Maureen, has the iconic scarf.

    • His parents call to wish him a Merry Christmas. He intentionally avoids the call (answer your phone, dick), hear them sounding nice, and says “There are times when we’re dirt broke, hungry, and freezing, and I ask myself, why the hell am I still living here? … And then they call. And I remember.”
    • They spend their opening song wondering how they’ll pay their bills while lighting a billionty-hundred candles, like, economize, dude.
  • Shows up to help Maureen/Joanne fix problems for the protest (okay, point in his favor) and tells Joanne to “say something, anything,” and when she offers the obvious “test 1,2,3,” he gets crazy judgy. Like, if you didn’t want her to say that, don’t tell her to say anything.
  • Tags along to a meeting and gets enormously awkward when they act like he might also have HIV/AIDS before filming them.
  • Goes to the Life Café, drinks tea for hours, doesn’t have money to pay, then uses that as the “haha, I ordered something last time!” argument.
  • And that fucking documentary. Mark’s documentary is the stupidest bullshit ever put to film. You know what it was? It was the same crappy montages you get at the end of the year from a Facebook algorithm. Congratulations, Mark, your life’s work can be done today by a crappy free-website algorithm that almost everyone ignores.
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