five-hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear,
five-hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes,
how do you measure, measure a year?"
A 1994 Rock Opera musical adaptation of Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème, RENT depicts a group of Alphabet City-based impoverished bohemians coping and cooperating in making the most out of whatever life they have left, all under cover of the looming, invisible, inevitable threat that is HIV/AIDS.
The cast includes:
- Mark Cohen: A down-on-his-luck Jewish-American documentarian. He is Maureen's ex-boyfriend and Roger's roommate. Owing to his profession as a filmmaker, Mark serves as a pseudo-narrator at several points of the play, framing scenes and providing explanations before the audience.
- Roger Davis: A successful-in-a-past-life musician and former drug addict, intent on writing at least one more meaningful piece of music prior to his ever-encroaching death. Prior to the events of the show, he and his girlfriend April were diagnosed with HIV, driving her to commit suicide shortly after.
- Mimi Marquez: A Hispanic-American exotic dancer and druggie. Like Roger, she's HIV-positive. Trying to pursue a relationship with him, their respective pasts, coupled with their outstanding circumstances, are that which get in the way. She and Angel are best friends.
- Tom Collins: An HIV-positive philosophy professor described by Mark as a "computer genius, teacher, and vagabond anarchist who ran naked through the Parthenon". A former roommate of Mark and Roger's. He has a sexual relationship with....
- Angel Dumott Schunard: A mischievous, HIV-positive street percussionist and Drag Queen who falls in love with Collins. Debate rages over whether Angel is a transgender woman, is just in it for the clothes and persona, or is gender non-binary, even on this very wiki.
- Maureen Johnson: A free-spirited, flirtatious, high-on-life bisexual performance artist who left Mark for Joanne.
- Joanne Jefferson: A Harvard-educated lawyer and Maureen's girlfriend. The most straight-laced and straight-faced of the bunch.
- Benjamin "Benny" Coffin III: Mark, Mimi, and Roger's roommate-turned-landlord, Mimi's ex-boyfriend, and the closest thing to an antagonist this show possesses. He used to be their roommate, until he married a real-estate heiress and "sold out". He has something of a Frenemy relationship with the others, seen as nothing more than yuppie trash and a sell-out.
Notable for its revitalization of musical theatre among young people, its ground-breaking portrayal of people with AIDS, and its obsessive fanbase. Also notable for being one of a select number of musicals to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
Like many stage musicals, RENT would eventually adapted into a feature film. Directed by Chris Columbus, the 2005 adaptation featured most of the original Broadway cast reprising their roles, with the exceptions of Rosario Dawson as Mimi, and Tracie Thoms as Joanne. Unlike the theatre production, it's a period piece, specifically established and set over a year from December 1989 to December 1990, whereas the original musical's time period was intentionally left ambiguous.
The original cast would later reunite for a one night 10th Anniversary benefit concert on April 24, 2006.
The original Broadway production was a Long Runner, having a healthy twelve-year run from April 29, 1996, to September 7, 2008; the final performance was filmed for home video, and was notable for having Tracie Thoms reprise her film role of Joanne, as well as having Rodney Hicks and Gwen Stewart, two members of the production's original cast at the New York Theatre Workshop, returning to be a part of the closing cast.
A live television production, RENT: Live, aired on Fox in January 2019, eleven years since the initial Broadway run ended. Among the cast of this production were Jordan Fisher as Mark, Tinashe as Mimi, Valentina as Angel, Vanessa Hudgens as Maureen, Kiersey Clemons as Joanne, and Keala Settle as the "Seasons of Love" soloist, while some of the original Broadway cast made cameo appearances in the final number. Co-star Brennin Hunt (Roger) broke his ankle during the prior night's dress rehearsal, and there was no understudy prepared to take over from him. Since the show must go on, however, he was still able to perform in modified segments using a wheelchair on the actual night, but the television broadcast consisted mainly of footage from the dress rehearsal until the aforementioned grand finale.
The poor reception of the special — including the aforementioned lack of understudies and the resulting lack of live RENT, and how it had to be heavily bowdlerized to make it suitable for broadcast television — resulted in NBC dumping its plans to broadcast a live version of another "mature" musical, Hair, in May, electing to focus more on "family-friendly" works instead.
RENT provides examples of:
- Actually Pretty Funny:
- At the Life Support group, Gordon quips that he relies on fear because he's a New Yorker; that's what they know. Everyone in the film titters about this.
- In the film, nearly every time the camera cuts away to Benny after a joke that he and his father-in-law are the butt of, he's trying to hide his smile. Most obvious during "Over The Moon" and after Maureen moons them during "La Vie Boheme".
- Adaptation Distillation: The film streamlines the story and cuts down extraneous bits, allowing for more focus on the main characters and their friendship. For example:
- Instead of breaking up multiple times, Roger/Mimi and Joanne/Maureen only break up once, giving the break-ups much more emotional weight.
- "Contact" is cut; Angel's illness instead is played alongside "Without You", which also shows the depth of Mimi's depression and disease and how she comes to rely more and more on Benny.
- More focus on the group's friendship, as well as the interpersonal relationships between individual characters (Mimi and Angel's friendship, for example, is given more focus).
- In the original musical, the first act all takes place on Christmas Eve. In the film, the events are split into three nights. "Today 4 U" through "Will I?" take place on Christmas Day (hence the change in the lyric from "Christmas Day" to "New Year's Day" in "Out Tonight"), while Maureen's performance and "La Vie Boheme" take place the night after Christmas.
- Unfortunately this works against Benny's character. His Redemption Quest scenes in the second act (covering the cost of Angel's funeral and Mimi's stay in rehab, encouraging Roger to get back together with her towards the end of the show) were cut from the film, making him a definitive antagonist, rather than having a complicated relationship with the others while still being their friend. The film arguably suffers for losing this nuance. Though it also removes the bit near the end showing that his wife found out about his infidelity. We also hear that he paid for Mimi's rehab, didn't demand the rent back or cut the power again, and was dialing Mark to ask if they found Mimi.
- Cutting "Christmas Bells" in the movie removes the implication that Mimi got her AZT on the black market, making it seem as though an exotic dancer living in squalor could somehow afford a drug priced somewhere in the thousands.note
- Somewhat arguable that that was ever the implication. The drug dealer is shown to have baggies of heroin, and in a later scene does provide Mimi with heroin. AZT is never mentioned in direct connection with said drug dealer. Although, it is referenced in "Christmas Bells". In the flea market, the company shouts "AZT!". This can either be a reference to the characters taking their AZT breaks or the vendors are smuggling it. It's unclear but it's there.
- Adaptation Expansion:
- Nothing is noted in the musical about how Mark or the others will pay for the post-show party after the one waiter notes that the last time Mark visited, he didn't even have enough to pay for his tea. In the film version, Angel shoves a bunch of money at the waiter, some of what she had left from her hit on Evita.
- Joanne goes with Mark for his meeting with Buzzline to make sure the terms are fair. She negotiates 3000 per video for him, with a sliding scale bonus. When Mark worries he's selling his soul, Joanne says nonsense, he's getting a living wage.
- Adaptation Species Change: The animal that Angel (in this show) / Schaunard (her counterpart in La Bohème) is hired to murder changes from an annoying parrot to an annoying dog.
- Ambiguous Gender Identity: Angel is AMAB,note dating a gay man, dresses like a drag queen, acts femininely, and is hinted to prefer the pronoun "she" but apparently doesn't mind masculine pronouns, and plays at being "brothers" with Collins during La Vie Boheme. Her actual gender is never explicitly stated, so it's entirely up to the actor, director, and perhaps audience. Even RENT Live and the movie, which had Mark correcting himself when he accidentally referred to Angel by male pronouns at her funeral, sees Collins using both.
- Ambiguously Brown: Mimi is stated to be Latina, but since a Black Latina actress was one of the first to play the role, other portrayals have ranged from Black to even non-Latin white.
- Anachronism Stew: The play doesn't have a set time period and premiered on Broadway in 1996, but the movie is set in 198990. Benny and Collins both talk about the Internet somewhat prophetically, since it didn't start becoming mainstream until the mid-'90s. The same is true for Angel referencing Thelma & Louise a year before it was released. Mark's film montage at the end contained a mural painted on a wall for deceased Latin music legend Celia Cruz, but the movie was supposed to be set about 10 years before that happened.
- Anything That Moves: Maureen seems to fall prey to this trope, perhaps best personified when she sings: "Ever since puberty / Everybody stares at me / Boys, girls, I can't help it, baby!"
- Arc Words: "I should tell you," generally in reference to Roger and Mimi's relationship.
- Armor-Piercing Question: Roger gives one to Mimi during "Another Day":Roger: Excuse me if I'm off trackBut if you're so wise, then tell me: Why do you need smack!?
- Ascended Extra: In Rent Live!, the life support counselor is featured much more prominently, and is even given the honor of singing Joanne's solo in "Seasons of Love" (which seems fitting, considering that she's played by Keala Settle).
- Audience Participation: "Moo with me!"
- Auto-Tune: Peppered throughout the movie soundtrack, to the distaste of many fans, since the majority of the cast were Broadway pros who didn't need their voices sound-sweetened.
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: For a heroin addict about to die of AIDS and/or an overdose, Mimi looks pretty good in the finale. Meanwhile Angel, who was assigned male at birth, has lesions on her face before she dies.
- Big Applesauce: The show takes place in New York City; specifically in Alphabet City, East Village.
- Big "NO!": Roger in "Finale A".
- Bisexual Love Triangle: Alluded to in the film version when Maureen storms out of her and Joanne's engagement party after an argument about a woman checking her out. Maureen's parents turn to Mark, asking him if he'll now get back together with her. While Mark is respectful of his ex's relationship, her parents are enforcing the love triangle to give Maureen a straight option (this is 1990, after all).
- Bittersweet Ending: The musical ends on an optimistic note, but half the characters have HIV/AIDS, so it's really only a matter of time until something like this happens again. Mark frets about being the only one left alive, and resolves to memorialize his friends in film. Word of God is that Mimi died soon after the end of the story. Also, it's possible now that Benny (and by association, his wife Allison) are living on borrowed time as well, if we interpret his relationship with Mimi as a sexual one.
- Bookends: The first song in the show has Mark start his camera with "December 24th, 9 PM, Eastern Standard Time..." while the final song has Mark start his camera with "December 24th, 10 PM, Eastern Standard Time..."
- Bowdlerise: The 2019 live telecast removes several swear words from the script, most notably the f-bombs in "Tango Maureen". Benny's "Do you really want a neighborhood where people piss on your stoop every night?" had "piss" changed to "puke," Angel's "Times are shitty" got changed to "Times ain't pretty," and the homeless woman calls out Mark with a scoff and "Artists" instead of calling out "This town is full of motherfucking artists!"
- The "Clit Club" Maureen mentions before "Take Me or Leave Me" gets changed to "Pandora's Box" as a Double Entendre Stealth Pun.
- "La Vie Boheme" replaced the word "dildos" with "latex," which actually alliterates better in the lyrics ("To leather, to latex..."). However, the "To faggots, lezzies, dykes" lyrics that often get changed for school productions remained intact.
- Break-Up Song: "Take Me or Leave Me". In the film, Joanne and Maureen fight during their engagement party and they end up calling off the engagement because of their clashing personalities. However, in the stageplay, it's during a rehearsal for another protest Maureen forced Joanne to direct.
- Broken Aesop:
- We are told we should all live our lives to the fullest because we could die tomorrow, and there is no day like today. But if you do happen to die, you can be resurrected through The Power of Rock. The concept of there being "no day but today," which is sung about a lot, is subverted in the second act through the use of passage of time: the first act, in which the mantra occurs extremely frequently, takes place in one day while the second takes place over the course of a year (in which the mantra is shown to be faulty at best).
- RENT also likes to complain about how hard it is to be an artist, but any kind of artistic job working for someone else would be selling out. One wonders what would happen if Roger actually starts selling CDs. Or, indeed, if RENT itself becoming so extremely lucrative means we shouldn't listen to it as it sells itself out...
- For people who spend the whole time talking about love and loving life, the circle of friends seems to have a lot of cheating, poor communication, and emotional sniping at each other — no one is enjoying themselves very much, or following Angel's lauded example. And, for that matter, Collins, who spends his time loving Angel and loving life with Angel ends up pretty much broken because of Angel's death.
- The extent to which the "all the characters are lazy bohemians" trope has become associated with the play has obscured the fact that the majority of the characters actually are working to support themselves: Collins, Mimi, and Joanne are all conventionally employed, while Angel has a serious street hustle going. Roger is getting back on his feet after overcoming a heroin addiction; only Mark and (going by the book) Maureen can really be construed as living totally self-indulgently "for their art."
- Broken Bird: A male example with Roger. In "One Song Glory," we see the pain he's bottling inside.
- Cast Full of Gay: Maureen is bisexual; Mark, Roger, Mimi, and Benny are straight. Joanne is either gay or bi, Collins and most likely Angel are. In some of the original notes, Mark was also flamingly bisexual, as Roger mentions to Mimi that Mark slept with half the guys in his film class.note
- Character Development: Roger defrosts, Mark is given some depth in "Halloween" and "Goodbye Love," Maureen gets a little less promiscuous and clingy after "Goodbye Love" (or at least, is willing to try harder to stay faithful to Joanne).
- Condescending Compassion: At one point, after Mark intervenes to help a homeless woman being harassed by the police by filming their encounter, she angrily rejects his assistance by accusing him of just trying to appropriate and exploit her unfortunate circumstances as inspiration for his art rather than acting out of any sincere desire to help.Blanket Person: Who the fuck do you think you are?
I don't need no goddamn help from some
Bleeding heart cameraman. My life's not
For you to make a name for yourself on!
Angel: Easy, sugar, easy...
He was just trying to—
Blanket Person: Just trying to use me to kill his guilt!
It's not that kind of movie, honey! Let's go:
This lot is full of motherfucking artists!!
Blanket Person (spoken): Hey, artist: You got a dollar?
Mark: (guilty silence)
Blanket Person: I thought not.
- Corpsing: In the 10th anniversary performance (which featured the original main cast), there were a few instances where the cast members briefly broke character due to some sort of slip-up. Both Adam Pascal and Idina Menzel occasionally forgot their lines or lyrics (but laughed it off and continued), and there's a rather hilarious instance during "I'll Cover You" where Jesse L. Martin was caught off-guard by how fast an incoming dance move was. His reaction? "OH SHIT!!! I forgot how fast younote were!"
- Culturally Sensitive Adaptation: RENT: LIVE edited the 1995 musical to get rid of dated or unintentionally problematic issues:
- It changed a line in "Happy New Year" where Maureen sings about wanting to be Joanne's slave to her simply promising to be good to Joanne.
- Due to a shifting understanding of gender identity since the 1990s, Angel's Ambiguous Gender Identity was updated to be more obviously transgender instead of a drag queen. Angel affirms during "I'll Cover You" that she feels the most like herself in feminine clothing, and Mark no longer refers to her as a drag queen during her funeral. Collins also consistently refers to Angel as "she" instead of "he."
- Cultural Translation: The play changes a lot things from its source material, La Bohéme in order to apply a Setting Update. For example, Marcello the painter becomes Mark the filmmaker, the Latin Quarter becomes Alphabet City, tuberculosis becomes AIDS, etc.
- Dark Reprise: The literal reprise of "I'll Cover You" sends 97% of people into either quiet, manageable tears or full-blown hysterics.
- Death by Adaptation: This version of Schaunard (Angel) dies of complications from AIDS, unlike the original Schaunard from La Bohème.
- Mimi is Killed Off for Real at the climax of the Dutch production.
- Defrosting Ice King: Roger starts out the play depressed and shut-in due to his HIV diagnosis and his girlfriend's suicide, but over the course of the musical, he falls for Mimi and gets out again, rediscovering his ability to love.
- Depraved Bisexual: Maureen has shades of this, what with her Anything That Moves personality and her constant gaslighting and emotional abuse towards Joanne.
- Did I Mention It's Christmas?: The play spans two Christmases as well as one New Year's Eve, though the holidays are rather incidental to the plot.
- Died in Your Arms Tonight: Angel. This almost happens to Mimi, too. See below.
- Disney Death: Mimi (except in the Dutch production), who is saved through The Power of Rock... alongside a heavy dose of Fridge Logic/slight Mind Screw. Being brought from the freezing street to a warm room probably helped, too.
- Distant Duet: In "What You Own", Mark's in New York, Roger's in Santa Fe, and they meet for the final verse on the roof of their apartment building.
- Double-Meaning Title: It refers to the rent that Mark and Roger can't pay, and to the general feeling of being torn (i.e., "rent") apart. And the third meaning, as suggested by "I'll Cover You" and "What You Own" — nothing is owned in this life, only rented. Including life itself.
- Downer Ending: The Dutch production apparently did not like how Mimi seemed to be brought back to life by the power of love. So in that one, she really does die. And after she gets carried off stage by the other characters, Mark stands on stage and sings a cynical rendition of the finale. This was approved by the licensors and everything.
- Drag Queen: Angel, who is usually played by a male actor, wears women's clothes and alternates between he/him and she/her pronouns, although it's not clear if she's a cis male drag queen, a trans woman, or nonbinary/genderfluid.
- Driven to Suicide: The dog, Evita. In the backstory, Roger's girlfriend April.
- "One Song" hints that Roger is contemplating this, since after he finishes his song there will be "No need to endure anymore."
- Duet Bonding: Mimi and Roger especially, though there are several examples.
- All in all, there are six or seven, depending on your exact definition: "Light My Candle", "I Should Tell You", and arguably "Another Day" for Mimi and Roger; "You Okay, Honey?" and "I'll Cover You" for Angel and Collins ("Santa Fe" could be considered one, as it does feature Mark and Roger, but is mainly focused on Angel and Collins); "Tango: Maureen" for Mark and Joanne; and "What You Own" for Mark and Roger.
- Dwindling Party: Showed heartbreakingly in the film during "Without You". During the onstage of various Life Support meetings, we see the members vanish one by now. Then it ends with Angel dying, which leads to the friend group breaking up.
- The Eleven O'Clock Number: "What You Own."
- Ensemble Cast
- Even the Guys Want Him: In the DVD commentary, Chris Columbus and Anthony Rapp speculate that the true reason some viewers left the theater during the "I'll Cover You" scene is because they had difficulty coping with their own desire for Wilson Jermaine Heredia and his fantastic legs.
- Everyone Has Standards:
- In the film, Joanne pushes Mark down while they're tango-dancing. It turns out when he lay on the ground for a few minutes, she checked on him, asking if he was okay.
- Even though he inadvertently starts the fight after Angel's funeral, Benny tag-teams with Mark in an attempt to break it up out of respect for Collins.
- Expy: Every single major character is a personality Expy to a character (or two, in the case of Joanne and Benny) in La Bohème.
- Mark is Marcello, the painter
- Roger is Rodolfo, the poet
- Mimi is Mimì, the seamstress
- Collins is Colline, the philosopher
- Angel is Schaunard, the musician
- Maureen is Musetta, the other musician
- Joanne is Alcindoro/partially Marcello
- Benny is Benoît and also the Viscount, a character cut from the final version of the opera and thus only alluded to.
- FaceHeel Turn: Apparently Benny if we believe Mark and Roger.
- Family of Choice: The main characters, most of whom are isolated from their families and other friends. All but Joanne are desperately poor, half of them suffer from AIDS and the relationships between the couples are rocky at the best of times, but they support each other and won't let any of the group go through it alone.
- Fanservice: The only reason why, in the film, "Out Tonight" is performed while Mimi is at work instead of at her apartment like in the play. Maureen also suits this, what with her skin-tight near see-through leather catsuit, and flashing her butt.It's a living.
- Femme Fatale: Maureen.
- Zigzagged with Mimi. It's the persona she adopts for "Light My Candle" and "Out Tonight," but "I Should Tell You" shows her vulnerability and her desire for a trusting relationship with Roger. Then she makes Roger question her loyalty by reconnecting with Benny and ultimately getting back together with him even though he's still married. It's up to the audience whether Roger has a right to be wary of her or if that's just his excuse not to open up to her.
- Foreshadowing: Possibly Fridge Brilliance here, but Mimi singing the Support Group's mantra in Another Day is possibly an early indication of her being HIV positive.
- And the line "The way that she dies" in "Seasons of Love" could refer to Mimi's near death and/or Angel's real death.
- The Film of the Play: FEATURING: Most of the original Broadway cast members!
- The producers recognized that, for the most part, the original cast had aged well enough in 10 years that they could all take their original roles. Fredi Walker, the original Joanne, thought she was too old for her role, but made sure they didn't Race Lift her part. Daphne Rubin-Vega, the original Mimi, was pregnant at the time of production.
- First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Mark acts as the narrator. There really is no central character.
- "Friends" Rent Control: Mark and Roger's apartment is huge. No wonder they can barely afford to live there. In the stage version, it's stated that there is no heat or electricity, so they have an illegal wood-burning stove and an extension cord which is stealing power from elsewhere. Benny promised them a rent-free stay, which he then went back on, sticking them with a year of back-rent.
- Friendly Address Privileges: "Tom. Friends call me Collins."
- Funny Answering Machine:
- Mark and Roger saying "speeeeeaak" together in a bored tone in songs such as Voice Mail #1.
- The New York Theatre Workshop version of RENT has another funny voicemail that never made the final cut.Collins: We went to steal an air conditioner.Angel: We'll be right back.
- Funny Background Event:
- Easy to miss, but in the Hollywood Bowl performance, Mark is seen crossing his legs while Maureen acts out suckling on the cow's udder by sucking her thumb suggestively.
- In the 2005 film performance: When Maureen dons a pair of silver shades to imitate Benny, Benny removes his and hides them in his jacket.
- Hard Truth Aesop:
- Using real people in your art is not cool, especially when they fail to give consent. Mark gets reamed out by a homeless woman after he uses his camera to stop a cop from harassing her because a dollar for food would help more than an "artist". Afterward, he only makes the documentary about his friends as a living memory of them, but nearly gives up on realizing they aren't art, and they are going to die.
- People are going to change, and you may lose your friendships with them in the process. Benny "changes" after he marries Allison and demands rent from his friends, knowing very well he can't pay. After Angel dies, the original group breaks up while calling each other out for their flaws and ignoring Mark and Benny's pleas to stop.
- The Heart: Angel in general. Mimi to Roger. Mark a bit.
- HeelFace Turn: Benny kinda-sorta reconciles with the other characters. The film almost entirely excises this by removing two key scenes.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Roger and Mark. "What You Own" is their duet and ends with spectacular harmony and a big hug between them. Director Chris Columbus says this is why their duets were removed from the film, as their friendship seemed more naturalistic and believable when they're allowed to just talk to each other.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Mimi, though she's an exotic dancer rather than a prostitute.
- How We Got Here: In the original Broadway version, Mark is on stage with just his camera and sings the beginning part of Halloween: "How did we get here, how the hell? Pan left, /Close on the steeple of the church/How did we get here, how the hell?/Christmas. Christmas Eve, last year" which goes straight into Voicemail #1. However, it was later removed from the show in most Broadway productions.
- Hypocrite: During their fight in "Take Me Or Leave Me", Maureen and Joanne sing about how they refuse to change and demand that the other accept them the way they are, while at the same time criticizing each other's flaws.
- I'm Cold... So Cold...: Mimi complains of being cold in the finale, where she appears to be on the edge of death but subverted in that she doesn't actually die.
- Incoming Ham:
- In "Christmas Bells", for Maureen.Maureen: Joanne, which way to the stage?!
- And before "Today 4 U,"Collins: MERRY CHRISTMAS, BITCHES!!
- In "Christmas Bells", for Maureen.
- Insistent Terminology: Mimi is an S&M dancer, not a stripper. Making that mistake in front of the wrong fan can be hazardous to your safety.
- Ironic Echo: "I'll cover you." The first time, it's part of an extended metaphor about a pair of lovers providing shelter for each other. The next time, it's about filling in a grave.
- Irrelevant Act Opener: "Seasons Of Love". The show's most iconic tune also has almost nothing to do with the narrative. It's mostly a thematic keynote.
- "I Want" Song: "Santa Fe" and "One Song Glory".
- Jewish and Nerdy: Mark.
- Ladykiller in Love: Arguably Maureen with Joanne, at least by show's end.
- Large Ham: Three words: Over The Moon.Maureen: 'THE ONLY WAY OUT IS UP!' Elsie whispered to me.
- Last-Name Basis: (Tom) Collins.
- Le Film Artistique: Mark's raison d'être.
- Lingerie Scene: Mimi takes off her silver robe for her black bra and panties at the beginning of "Out Tonight" in the film adaptation.
- List Song:
- "La Vie Boheme".
- "Seasons of Love".
- The Lost Lenore: April, Roger's dead girlfriend, whose suicide triggers the depression we find him at the play's start. In the theatre version, Mark notes that April slit her wrists in their bathtub, leaving a note saying only, "We've got AIDS." The film isn't quite that explicit.
- Love Triangle: Mark, Joanne, and Maureen as well as Roger, Mimi, and Benny. The movie also gives us Mark, Roger, and Mimi subtext.
- Magical Queer: Angel.
- Man Hug: Mark and Roger on several occasions, most notably at the end of "What You Own".
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Mimi to Roger, Mark to Roger, Maureen to Joanne, and Angel to everyone.
- Married to the Job: Mark. As Roger rants at him: "Mark's has got his work, they say Mark lives for his work, and Mark's in love with his work..." Of course, there's a reason...
- The Masochism Tango: The tango... Maureen. Mark and Joanne discuss this, how this is what makes Maureen alluring and dangerous.
- Mating Dance: "Contact".
- Meaningful Echo:
- "Another Day", "Without You", and "Will I" were all given this treatment in the finale. At the same time.
- Some of "Today 4 U" is reprised far more sexily during "Contact."
- During Finale A, Roger and Mimi echo "Another Day," "Light My Candle," and "I Should Tell You." "I Should Tell You" is also echoed briefly in "Your Eyes" and in "Goodbye Love" in the sung-conversation between Mark and Roger, right before he says "I'll call." More Roger / Mark subtext, anyone?
- During Finale B, Roger meaningfully echoes "Thank God this moment's not the last", a much-needed nod to "Another Day".
- Meaningful Funeral:
- Meaningful Name:
- Angel, of course.
- Also, many characters' names are modernizations of their counterparts from La Boheme.
- Mister Muffykins: Evita, Benny's wife's dog (at least the yappy part).
- Mind Screw: "Contact": It's kind of a stage-wide orgy that is also a metaphor both for Angel's death and for the barriers people put up between each other. It never fails to confuse the hell out of everyone the first time around.
- Multi-Ethnic Name: Angel Dumott-Schunard
- The Musical: Rent is the late parts of The '80s and the early parts of The '90s condensed and put to an awesome soundtrack.
- Mythology Gag: While the movie has them change several times, certain stage costumes make appearances throughout the movie. The most notable ones being Mark's sweater during "La Vie Boheme" and then Angel and Mimi's outfits on New Year's. Angel's is the one she wears during "New Year's Eve" in the stage version and Mimi's is her first act outfit, complete with spandex pants and leopard print boots.
- New Year Has Come: "Seasons of Love".
- Nice to the Waiter: A rare case where the antagonist is better at this than the heroes are. The waiters at the Life Cafe mention that Mark and his friends have a habit of not paying for their meals; in the film at least, Angel does pay them for the food they ordered. Benny, in contrast, makes it a habit to pay for everything he buys, and covers Angel's funeral, as well as Mimi's rehab. He says that he was wanting to give more to the community by refurbishing it.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: The tabloid news show that Mark briefly works at does a piece on "vampire welfare queens who are compulsive bowlers."
- No Bisexuals: Maureen is constantly referred to as a lesbian, though she is actually bisexual (potentially even Omnisexual) and visibly Mark's ex.
- Jonathan Larson referred to her as a lesbian in the original script, but he was later corrected by lesbian friends who noted that she wouldn't have dated Mark if she was a lesbian. Most of the characters still refer to her as a lesbian, but that can be chalked up to bisexual identity not being as commonly promoted at the time. Historically, 'lesbian' was often used to refer to women who had relationships with women regardless of whether they also had relations with men.
- Odd Friendship: Though they spend most of their first meeting rather cold towards each other due to Joanne dating Mark's ex, they bond over her treatment of them both, and Joanne later helps Mark get a job.
- Original Cast Precedent: Mark and Mimi are stated to be respectively Jewish and Hispanic, but the races of the other characters are pretty much determined by those of the original cast members despite race being incidental. Thus, Joanne, Collins, and Benny are always black, Angel always Hispanic, and Maureen and Roger always white, at least in professional American productions where a variety of people are available.
- Only Sane Man:
- Some (particularly detractors) see Benny as this, since he is one of the only characters who plans for the future and tries to hold down a job.
- Mark sees himself as this.
- Opposites Attract: Deconstructed with Maureen and Joanne. In "Take Me or Leave Me", they have an argument concerning their different personalities and upbringings as well as Maureen's flirtatious behavior. The song ends with them breaking up because they can't be together anymore.
- The Power of Rock: How they save Mimi.
- Pair the Spares: An inter-textual example. In La Bohème, Colline and Schaunard are the only characters without a romance, so here their equivalent characters are made a couple.
- Plot-Mandated Friendship Failure: Angel's funeral. Mimi and Roger's relationship seems to have ended for good, Mark and Roger alienate because of Roger running off to Santa Fe, and Collins isn't happy that all the drama was brought to the funeral — something he knew Angel would've never wanted. However, Maureen and Joanne reconcile for good, and Benny begins to turn back to his friends, footing the bill for Angel's funeral, and admitting to Collins he never really liked the dog Angel drove to suicide.
- Positive Discrimination: It might be a coincidence, but the four canonically minority characters (Benny, Collins, Joanne, and Mimi) are the only ones with stable jobs. Also, the only healthy and unconditionally loving relationship is between two gay men.
- Precision F-Strike: Also the only two F-bombs left in The Film of the Play.Joanne: This is weird.
Mark: So weird...
Joanne: Very weird...
Mark: Fucking weird!
Joanne: She cheated!
- And then later in the same song...
Mark: She cheated.
Joanne: Maureen cheated!
Mark: Fucking cheated!
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Mark gets a pretty good one from a homeless lady who feels he's exploiting her plight to make his movie.
- "Goodbye Love" is basically this for everyone, with Mimi and Roger fighting, Joanne and Maureen fighting, Roger and Mark fighting, and Collins telling all of them off for not being able to hold it off just for today.
- Recycled INSPACE: Puccini's La Boheme IN MODERN DAY NEW YORK!
- Refrain from Assuming: "Seasons of Love" is not called "525,600 Minutes".
- Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Roger and Benny, to Mimi. One's a poor, HIV-positive songwriter, the other's a married landlord.
- Rock Opera
- Rummage Sale Reject: The entire cast.
- Running Gag:
- This one:Roger: Muffy-Benny/Mark: Allison...
- The constant puns with Mimi's name and the word "me", seen at least in "Light My Candle", "La Vie Boheme A", and "Goodbye Love".
- This one:
- Say My Name: In "Your Eyes": "MIMIIIII!"
- Self-Parody: Dating back to the New York Theatre Workshop in 1994, "Right Brain" was what is now "One Song Glory", and many fans either feel like vomiting or laughing when they hear it, for very obvious reasons.
- Setting Update: See Recycled INSPACE above.
- She Is Not My Girlfriend: In the song "Happy New Year", Benny sings "Does your boyfriend know who your last boyfriend was?" and Roger responds "I'm not her boyfriend! I don't care what she does!"
- Shoot the Dog: Angel, somewhat literally.
- Shout-Out: To La Bohème, of course: Angel's last is name Schaunard, the name of the character she was modeled after. Collins is Collin, Mark is Marcello, Mimi (just guess), etc. They all have jobs roughly equivalent to their operatic counterparts, Mark being a filmmaker while Marcello was a painter, etc.
- The use of "Musetta's Waltz" (the song Roger keeps playing on his guitar), referenced in the line from "La Vie Boheme A": "And Roger will attempt to write a bittersweet, evocative song ... (Roger plays) ... that doesn't remind us of Musetta's Waltz."
- The lines "Every single day, I walk down the street, I hear people say 'Baby's so sweet'" in "Take Me or Leave Me" (a fairly direct, if modernized, translation of the first lines of "Quando m'en vo", or Musetta's Waltz).
- And of course, the akita, Evita.
- Part of "Christmas Bells," where various vendors shout out their wares to passerby, echoes a similar scenario in the Act II opening of La Bohème.
- Mark burning his screenplays for heat and Mimi's game with the candle are taken straight from the opera, and the ending is a virtual recreation, with the ending slightly tweaked.
- Collins' obsession with his stolen coat in Act 1 is likely because his inspiration in La Boheme spent his only aria bemoaning the loss of his coat.
- Sidekick Song: "Today 4 U" for Angel, "Santa Fe" for Collins, "Over the Moon" for Maureen.
- Snow Means Love: In the film version, snow falls as Mimi and Roger stand outside the cafe after Maureen's protest and finally admit they could have a real relationship together.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Mimi survives at the end (except in the Dutch production), unlike the original Mimi from La Bohème.
- So Beautiful, It's a Curse: Maureen's flimsy justification for being unable to stop cheating is that everybody's attracted to her and she can't help it.
- Somewhere, a Mammalogist Is Crying: Evita the little yappy dog is specifically mentioned to be an akita, for rhyming reasons. Akitas are a large breed, reaching 100 lbs or more, though it is implied Evita is still a puppy. Still, keeping an akita in a 23rd story apartment is somewhat questionable.
- Stepford Smiler: Mark. While he's always attempting to be Roger's happy, supportive best friend, the song "Halloween" marks him (pun intended) as someone contemplative, mournful, and terrified of the reality of his situation. Roger even calls him out for this, how he appears to be making himself numb while encouraging the others to feel.
- Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: In the movie, Joanne pushes Mark to a concrete floor hard during "The Tango Maureen". He seems to get up to finish an elaborate dance routine with her, along with Maurren and a bunch of backup dancers. Then we get a Daydream Surprise and Smash Cut to reality, where Mark is laying on the floor, revealing the whole thing was a hallucination. Joanne's even worried she hurt him badly and helps him to his feet.
- Survivor Guilt: Mark knows he's probably going to outlive all of his friends, which is a serious downer.
- Symbolism: Mark and Roger invoke this during the song "Rent" while burning their old material to keep warm after the heater goes out.Mark: The music ignites the night with passionate fire.
Roger: The narrative crackles and pops with incendiary wit.
- The Three Faces of Adam: Roger is The Hunter, Mark is The Lord, and Collins is The Prophet.
- The Three Faces of Eve: Joanne is The Wife, Maureen is The Seductress, and Mimi is The Child.
- Tragic AIDS Story: Many characters have and die from the disease, the most prominent being Angel. Mimi, a drug addict, comes close, and likely dies soon after the play ends, but still makes it to the final curtain. Roger's ex-girlfriend killed herself because she didn't want to live with it shortly before the events of the musical, and Roger himself suffers depression from it. The message implied was that Angel was Too Good for This Sinful Earth.
- Triumphant Reprise: "Finale B", for "Another Day", "Without You", and "Will I?"
- Tuckerization: The members of Life Support meeting are named after Jonathan Larson's friends who died of AIDS. The script encourages the production to rename any characters after anybody who the production knows dies of AIDS.
- Uptight Loves Wild: Joanne and Maureen, a prim, proper by-the-book lawyer and a free-spirited, spontaneous performance artist.
- Villain Song: "You'll See" is Benny describing his
- Wham Line: A few, including:
"But does your boyfriend know who your last boyfriend was?"
- "AZT Break." Mimi reveals that she's also HIV positive, which convinces Roger to take a chance on her.
- After "Contact": Collins' "...it's over." This leads into Angel's funeral and every member of the cast becomes distraught.
- From "Happy New Year": It's revealed that Benny used to date Mimi.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: Benny disappears from the movie adaptation after the funeral scene. Everything from him paying for Angel's funeral and Mimi's rehab to his wife finding out he cheated on her and dragging him away doesn't occur or even get mentioned, though the former things were filmed, just cut out of the final release.
- What the Hell, Hero?: A homeless woman delivers a scathing one to Mark, rightly pointing out that he's only using her plight to make a name for himself and kill some of his guilt, since filming her like an animal on the Discovery Channel doesn't solve any of her problems. This actually causes him to rethink his movie plans, refocusing it on his friends battling AIDS.
- Wholesome Crossdresser: Angel.
- "There's only now,
There's only here.
Give in to love,
Or live in fear.
No other path,
No other way,
No day but today."