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Some things are almost impossible to do well. Say, removing that pesky seal on a new CD. Or successfully adapting a musical to the big screen—especially if you’re Chris Columbus. The director of the worst of the Harry Potter flicks makes a spirited go of it with his faithful take on Broadway’s Rent, but there’s a reason the show was written for the boards and not the big screen: It’s based on a friggin’ opera. An updated retelling of Puccini’s La Bohème, Rent follows a group of down-and-out aspiring-artist types struggling with drugs, AIDS, and poverty in the East Village circa 1990 (think: Logan Circle before Whole Foods). There are Roger (Adam Pascal) and Mimi (Rosario Dawson), star-crossed lovers suffering from addiction and disease; Maureen (Idina Menzel) and Joanne (Tracie Thoms), a lesbian couple wrestling with commitment; dying drag queen Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia) and his philosopher boyfriend, Collins (Jesse L. Martin); and Mark (Anthony Rapp), the nebbish who’s trying to capture it all on film. Enter Benny (Taye Diggs), an ex-friend-turned-landlord who’s threatening to evict the lot of ’em (probably so he can build a Whole Foods). Much of what devoted Rentheads loved about the show remains intact in the film: The story is told almost exclusively through song, creator Jonathan Larson’s score is left mostly untouched, and most of the original Broadway cast is back and in form. But that’s not necessarily good news for filmgoers. True to his Potter MO, Columbus essentially filmed the musical outright rather than re-imagining it, making for plenty of awkward moments onscreen—including that whole spontaneously-bursting-into-song thing. Unlike Chicago, which combined a good bit of dialogue with musical dream sequences, Rent is basically just characters’ launching into ditties about zoning laws without provocation. But more problematic are the musical’s oversized, underdrawn characters: the stripper with the heart of gold who just needs the love of a good man, the dying drag queen with, um, ditto, and so on. In musical theater, when the crowd is in the same room with you and you’re aiming for the rafters, these broad types can work. But cinema is both a more isolating and a more intimate medium—it demands some nuance. Though this talented cast clearly relishes memorializing a musical on film, it’s hard not to wish that they’d been satisfied with just making the CD. Even if you can’t open it. —Mario Correa